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Seriously. How was this your life?

Saturday Night Live. Your dream job. The show you’d dreamed of being on since your mom and dad showed you a VHS of “The Best of Gilda Radner” when you were ten years old.

Working with people you admired and were honestly still a little intimidated by (despite some fast friendships forming…fast, uncomfortably affectionate friendships where Kate was concerned). Making people laugh on your grandest scale yet.

Those first impressions.

Speaking of…

***

@SNLraiser: how not to make a good first impression on someone: DOING an impression of them on @nbcsnl the week before they host. (sorry @lin_manuel)

***

In another capacity – a more “Really?! with Seth and Amy” capacity - seriously. HOW WAS THIS YOUR LIFE?

Was this happening to you because you were new? (It couldn’t be; Melissa was new, too, and they weren’t getting Sarah Silverman to host, so bullshit.)

This was because you auditioned for the show with a “Hamilton” spoof, wasn’t it? “Hey, new girl can rap somewhat decently and knows that popular theatre thing he did, put her in a wig and draw a beard on her face, IT’S ALMOST LIKE HE’S ACTUALLY HERE.”

(Despite the facts that A: he’d cut his hair and shaved a LONG time ago so the wig and beard didn’t really make sense anymore; and B: that you were the whitest white to ever white white white.)

But hey, it made the audience laugh, so…that was a good start…right? It was because you were funny, right?

I mean…that HAD to be the reason. Your (very new) Twitter feed exploded with new follows and messages welcoming you to the show, congratulating you on your first show, raving about the Lin-Manuel impression especially, seriously, HOW DO YOU DO IT.

Fuck, ARTICLES were being written about that shit. Not a lot, but…at least one, from what Cecily showed you.

Like…you knew being on SNL was gonna be surreal…but you had NO IDEA how surreal…

***

@SNLraiser: doing a @lin_manuel impression in several easy steps.

@SNLraiser: 1. rap. use clever sparkly wordplay. but make the wordplay seem effortless.

@SNLraiser: 2. look at everyone and everything as though you have just seen the very face of god. (or a kitten. basically the same thing, right?.)

@SNLraiser: 3. be made of literal sunshine.

@SNLraiser: 4. never do this impression in public when you know you’re going to be working with him in a professional capacity.

@SNLraiser: 5. because he may actually kill you. like, he’s not gonna aim for the sky, he’s gonna aim for your face.

@SNLraiser: 6. i’ll check in tomorrow if i don’t wake up dead.

@SNLraiser: 7. …this is the road to ruin, and we’re starting at the end. say yeah (YEAH), let’s be alone together, we can stay young forever

@SNLraiser: in conclusion…fall out boy. …wait, what was i talking about?

***

“I think you’re overthinking this, newbie,” Kate said, leaning against you and reading your Twitter feed over your shoulder. “He’s not gonna hate you. No one hates you.”

“I’ve got, like, five hundred terribly misspelled tweets calling me a cunt that tell me otherwise.”

“That’s because the internet is populated by assholes, and that’s why I’m not on social media,” Kate said, hugging you to the point where she was basically wrapped around you. You struggled to stand up straight.

“Kate, please get off,” you said as she clung closer.

“Mmm, nope. Gotta get you used to this for when we eventually make out on the show.”

“Is that a confession or a threat?”

“YES.” She gave you that wide-eyed manic grin she gave in some sketches. You managed to shoo her off you.

“I just…don’t want him to hate me,” you repeated feebly. Kate took your arm and led you down the hall. “I mean, that’s irrational as fuck, he seems incapable of hate, but…”

“…but you just want him to liiiiiiiiiike you, is that it?” Kate said slyly. You shot her a look.

“When did me liking him ever come up?”

“Just now. When I tricked you into confessing it.”

“That wasn’t a confession. That was a restatement of your claim that I ‘liiiiiiiiiiiked him’.” You paused in the hallway. “Why do you even give a shit about the newbie’s love life? Is this gonna result in some sort of hazing ritual I’m unaware of?”

“Nah, we mostly save that for the cast parties after the shows,” Kate “assured” you. “But your face went, like, bright red at the implication, so I’m, like, a little genuinely concerned and intrigued?”

You leaned against the wall and thumped your head against it.

“Am I that fucking obvious?” you groaned. Kate rubbed your back, and you managed to look at her. “I’ve…like, sort of been a little in love with his voice since ‘In the Heights’? And I, like, lucked into tickets for ‘Hamilton’ off-Broadway before it fucking EXPLODED, and same thing with actual Broadway, and…who knows, maybe it’s all a front, but…he seems like that sweetest, most genuine ‘all is full of love’ person in the world and…” Another forehead thump. “I’m a fucking dork.”

“Aw…I think it’s cute,” Kate cooed, patting your back again.

“Like…playing the guy you’ve got this ridiculous crush on is weird and kind of mortifying enough, even if it does go over well with, like, the rest of the world. Like, how am I actually gonna face him?”

“Well, you’re gonna have to, because we gots the meets, like, now-ski,” Kate said jovially, linking your arm with hers and leading you towards Lorne’s office (per tradition for the pitch meeting).

“ Just…please don’t tell anyone, Kate…okay?” you pleaded.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul that you’ve got a big honkin’ crush on—”

“KATE.”

“Heh, you’re cute when you’re flustered.”

“This IS newbie hazing, isn’t it?”

“Little bit, yeah.”

Lorne’s office was JUST big enough to house all the bodies of the writers, cast members, and host. So getting there with enough time to find an actual place to sit (floor, windowsill, a CHAIR) was key. You and Kate arrived when the room was about halfway full.

Leslie shouted our name with unmitigated glee, as she tended to do with everyone (even if she DIDN’T know the person’s name. Then they were “PIZZA GUY!” or “COFFEE GIRL!” or “FRED SAVAGE-LOOKING DUDE!”). You still weren’t used to that, and just about jumped out of your fucking skin. Vanessa smiled at you, her smile that cleared your skin right up, it was so radiant and lovely. A few nods from some of the guys, warm greetings from Colin and Michael, and a smile from Lorne that reassured you (you were wanted here) and frightened you (by god, you still needed to prove you belonged here).

You snagged a spot on a windowsill near the back corner of the room, still not comfortable with jumping right in like you’d been there for months. You didn’t have the confidence Melissa had, envying how easy it seemed for her to chat away with Cecily and Pete about something. You just people-watched for a while, waiting as the room filled, dreading whenever Lin was to arrive. You took a small notebook out of your pocket, and reached behind your head to retrieve the pen you’d jabbed into your ponytail. To distract yourself before pitch started, you jotted down some ideas for sketches that you’d probably not share because A: nerves; and B: you were still too green for one of your sketches to go through. Someone sat next to you; you were only faintly aware of this as you scribbled away half-baked ideas, puns, punchlines for jokes you hadn’t fully crafted yet…

“All right everyone, if we can get started!” Lorne called. You clicked your pen and jammed it back into your hair, eyes instantly on Lorne. Intent. Focused. Ready to go. “Last week’s show was great. So let’s make this week’s show just as great, if not greater. Now, to formally introduce your host for this week – Lin-Manuel Miranda!”

…why was Lorne gesturing at you? Was that a joke, because you played him in that sketch? Why was everyone smiling and clapping and cheering in your direction. You looked next to you.

And just about jumped out of your skin.

“FUCK ME!”

Yeah, Lin was the guy who’d sat down next to you and you hadn’t fucking noticed and now you’d just made the second-worst first impression on him in history. In front of all the writers and cast. Who were now laughing at your misfortune. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU—

“Oh god, are you oka–?”

Goddamn it, Lin, the precious cinnamon roll disguising himself as a human was going to hug you.

“NO NO NO PLEASE DON’T THAT JUST MAKES THINGS WORSE.”

Brain-to-mouth filter. Where were you. Stahp.

You covered your face with your hands.

“I’m…sorry on so many levels,” you moaned.

“Aw, Lin, you scared Newbie!”

“Hey, why is SHE Newbie and I’m just Melissa?” Melissa asked, taking the focus off you for one second (thank every deity).

“Because she’s secretly Zach Braff from ‘Scrubs’,” Kate said sagely, giving you a wink.

“Can we please just stop the hazing and get the meeting started?” you asked.

“Don’t haze me, bro?” Lin suggested. Groans filled the room. You fell a little more in love because that was the exact dated-but-once-topical joke you made in your head but did not verbalize (oh, THERE you were filter, nice to show up late to the party).

Sure enough, though, Lorne took the reins back and opened the room up for sketch ideas. There was some agreement, some elaboration on proposed ideas, some questions on how that certain scenario would make for good television or could feasibly be pulled off on the show. Occasionally, some would break out into character voices for proposed sketches, to lighten things up a little. LOTS of theatre ideas were going around, given Lin’s line of work.

You tended to either watch Colin frantically scribbling away at his notebook (either taking notes or furiously getting a headstart on scripting), or jot down other ideas in your own notebook.

“Did you wanna share anything?” Lin whispered at one point when a proposal for a “Stranger Things” based sketch turned into straight-up gushing over “Stranger Things”. You looked up at him. Yep, that sure was you he was talking to, boy howdy.

“Hmm?” was all you managed.

“It just…looks like you have a lot of notes or ideas,” Lin said. “Wanted to make sure you had a chance to suggest something.”

“Oh…no, that’s okay, I’m not…they’re not…” You looked back down.

“Newbie, did you have something?”

Goddamn it, Cecily, why did you have to say that?

“Yeah, actually, she’s got a few things written down,” Lin spoke on your behalf. You hid your face in your notebook.

“All right, cool, let’s hear what you got,” Colin said. Leslie cheered your name again as you flipped through the pages of your notebook and tried to ignore all the eyes on you.

“Um…okay, how about…” you muttered as you pored over your nigh-illegible scribblings. “Oh, so…because musicals…” You gestured vaguely at Lin. “Um…some sort of…something to do with ’West Side Story’, but the girl is white, and the guy is Puerto Rican. Because Lin is. Puerto Rican.”

“I wanna be Biff!” Kate demanded. “I DEMAND to play Biff!”

“Kate, that’s RIFF.”

“Um, no, I’m PRETTY sure Biff Tannen was in ‘West Side Story’.”

“So, that would be the only difference?” Colin asked.

“No, um, the girl…Antonia, I guess, for Tony? Anyway, she would have been a Jet with Riff, who would be played by Kate apparently, and Maria—um…Mario—”

“Twirls around in a white dress?” Lin piped in. “Because I can rock a white dress.”

“No. Clearly, you will be in red overalls and popping mushrooms, being named Mario and all,” Bobby said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Aw.” Lin sounded almost disappointed for about half a second. “Well, I can rock red overalls, too.”

“You got something there, newbie,” Colin said, taking notes. “We’ll see what we can do with it.”

“Cool,” you said nonchalantly, while internally, you were screaming. Because VALIDATION.

“Any other ideas?”

“Um…” You looked down at your notebook. “Nope, just bad puns.”

“How bad we talkin’?”

“Um…well…god, no one’s gonna understand this one, but…” You cleared your throat. “Dario Argento’s film ‘Suspiria’’ is being adapted into a musical, which will feature music from the film along with original songs. The composer? Goblin-Manuel Miranda.”

There were SOME laughs, but mostly looks of confusion.

“The band Goblin wrote the music for Suspiri—I told you it was a bad pun, shut up, you knew I liked horror films when you hired me.”

“Well, good news is you’re not fired, so…”

“Thank you, Colin. I can sleep easy…well, never. This is SNL. What is sleep?”

Aidy spoke up with a suggestion for a sketch, taking the attention off of you, blessedly. Until you felt a nudge on your arm. You looked over at Lin, who gave you a thumbs-up. You returned it with a weak smile.

Soon, the pitch meeting was over, and everyone dispersed to get SOME rest before coming back for the all-night writing jag. As you walked out of the room and made to move down the hall, someone called your name. Lin was running towards you.

“Hey, um…sorry if I made you uncomfortable at all in there,” he said, rubbing the back of his head. “I kinda forced you into sharing your ideas and you seemed really uncomfortable about it and that wasn’t cool of me so—”

“No no, don’t worry, I was already super uncomfortable before the meeting even started.”

Where had your filter gone again?

“Because of the impression last week?”

“…I mean…yeah?” As if it wasn’t super fucking obvious?

“When someone on SNL does an impression of you, that’s how you know you’ve made it in the world,” Lin said with a shrug. “Getting to host the actual show is just icing on that cake.” You shrugged. “Also, I was told that you did some sort of ‘Hamilton’ pastiche at your audition?”

“Oh god, who told you—”

“No, I think that’s cool! I’m glad I could help you get here!”

You were aware that Lin was still speaking to you, but your hearing faded out a little because Lin’s hands were on your shoulders and that was all you could focus on. So you just nodded and smiled and hoped that what he was saying warranted nods and smiles.

Lin turned at the sound of his name.

“Well, I gotta go,” Lin said, letting go of your shoulders. “Lorne wants to talk things over. But we’ll talk again, yeah?”

“Sure.”

“Cool. I look forward to working with you!”

He waved at you before walking back towards Lorne’s office, and offered you one last smile before he disappeared from view.

You continued down the hall and very deliberately ignored the knowing looks Kate was giving you. (And also missed the look she shared with Cecily as you walked by.)

***

@SNLRaiser: it’s tomorrow so i’m checking in and i didn’t wake up dead which means @lin_manuel didn’t kill me. yet.

***

Tuesday night. Write until your fingers fall off and your eyeballs bleed out of your skull night.

You were huddled up on a couch in the corner of one of the writing rooms – the room no one ever usually stayed in for long because the lighting wasn’t great and the couches weren’t as nice as the couches in some of the other writing rooms. But it gave you a quiet space to think. And nod off sometimes, but mostly the writing.

There was a knock on the door when you were jotting down joke ideas for Weekend Update.

“Hey!”

You looked up to see a smiling Lin.

“I was wondering where you were!” He sat on the couch next to you. “Is this some sort of newbie isolation or something?”

“Nah, I just…isolated myself?” You cringed. “That sounded bad. Um…I dunno.” You tucked your legs underneath you. “Anyway, where’ve you been?”

“Jimmy Fallon’s show,” he said, treating you as if you weren’t the most awkward person on the planet.

“Oh, he’s nice,” you said. “He gave me a little congratulations note when I’d gotten cast.”

“Cool.”

Silence. Awkward silence.

“Well, how’s the work coming?” Lin asked after several beats.

“I mean, I write things down, like, jokes and shit but…” You shrugged. “I dunno, my sense of humor is kinda weird and…obscure? Like, I’m into all sorts of weird shit that maybe two or three people would ever get the reference to were SNL to use my stuff.”

“Like the Goblin band from yesterday? From…uh…what was it?”

“‘Suspiria’. Dario Argento giallo film, sort of this Italian genre of horror-thriller murder mystery. Doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about it too hard, but a GORGEOUS film to watch. One of the last to be filmed on three-strip Technicolor and…oh god, why am I prattling on about this, you probably DO not care in the slightest.”

Please, old musty couch with questionable stains, swallow you up now.

“I’ll look into it,” Lin said, unfazed.

“…you’re just saying that to make me feel less awkward.”

“No, it sounds cool! And I like hearing you talk about it. It’s something you have a passion for, and that’s cool.”

Christ tap-dancing on a bed of Legos, how was this man even real? You hoped the smile you gave him wasn’t too nauseatingly starry-eyed.

“So anyway…did you find me just to find me or…?”

“Actually, I had a question,” Lin said, reaching for the pad of paper and pen he’d set aside to talk to you. “We’re brainstorming ideas for a high school cast party sketch. Did you do theatre in high school?”

“Yes. Please don’t remind me.”

“Hey, high school theatre was an embarrassing time for us all. So, any…specific things about it that you remember that maybe viewers could relate to?”

“Um…I don’t know.”

“Like, what’s the first thing you think of when I say ‘high school theatre’?”

“Character shoes.”

Lin snorted.

“Oh god, those things,” he said as he wrote that down.

“Yeah, I knew girls who basically lived in them during shows. Wore them to school, during the show, at the cast party. I was just like, why. They aren’t THAT comfortable.”

“Anything about cast parties specifically that you remember?”

“Not really, just…teenagers getting together and hormones stewing and everyone being too awkward to actually do anything about them.”

“Was there any awkward flirting?”

“…it was high school.”

“Right. Right. Stupid question that answers itself. Any specific flirting you remember? Or maybe even attempted?”

“…oh god.”

You covered your face.

“It’s the worst thing.”

“What?” Lin asked.

“So…there was this guy I liked SUPER hard, but I had NO idea how to approach him. So at one of the cast parties, he was wearing this…stupid pink baseball cap. And…I don’t know, I snatched it off his head and wore it for the rest of the night. Like, just walking around the party and occasionally looking over at him to see if he was ever gonna come over and try to take it back. And he never fucking did.”

“So…did you just keep the hat?”

“No, it was itchy and tacky.”

Lin laughed again. And you laughed too. Because fuck, you were so awkward back then. (Not that much had changed.)

“So do you still flirt with guys that way?” Lin asked.

“I don’t flirt with guys at all,” you said, “or girls, if you were gonna ask me that, which I don’t know why you would, answer’s pretty fucking obvious.”

“…what answer?” Lin said, confused. “What was the question?”

“…don’t know, the point is, I’m not a flirtable person.” You clicked your pen with finality on the matter and turned back to your paper to write something down.

“You’re plenty flirtable,” Lin said.

You pen stroke skewed, drawing a straight line through a joke that honestly wasn’t even that great in the first place.

“Um…that’s a thing I’ve heard…NEVER before…so…what’s wrong with you?”

You have no idea how to react to a thing like that.

“Nothing, just…you give yourself too little credit,” Lin said, shifting on the couch, very intent on his notepad. He then suddenly stood up. “So, I should get these notes back to the writers and we can cobble something together. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Lin hurried out of the room after giving you a smile that wasn’t quite as genuine or enthused as when he’d first walked in. You generally had that effect on guys when they got to know you, so you weren’t too offended. (But the part of your heart hopelessly devoted to Lin made a sad little sigh.)

About an hour later, Leslie came in, your name on her lips with endless amounts of enthusiasm.

“How’s my favorite newbie?” she said, giving you a hug.

“I’m your ONLY newbie,” you reminded her.

“So hey, can you follow me for a bit?” Leslie said, gesturing towards the door. You picked up your writing materials and followed her.

“Is this another ‘you need to be more social’ scolding, because I’m literally on TV and it’s literally my job?” you asked.

“No—well, I’ll give you that scolding later, but this is for something else,” Leslie said. You were still familiarizing yourself with the layout of the studio, but from what you could tell, she was leading you towards the diner set.

“What’s up?”

“So, they’re getting ready to shoot the promos,” Leslie explained. “You know, the TV spots. And Cecily was gonna do them, but then she said, you know, it didn’t really make sense for HER to do them, but what would REALLY be good is if YOU did them with Lin. You know, because of the impression last week and all.”

Your footsteps halted.

“So…wait, I’m filming the promos?” you clarified. “Even though I’m a newbie? Like…THAT’S the reason y’all want me to do this and not Cecily?”

“Yeah.”

“…okay…that sounds fake, but okay.”

“Girl, don’t quote old memes at me, just get in there and do your damn job.”

You obeyed Leslie, stifling laughter as she waggled her fingers at you and gave you the most innocent of smiles.

When you walked on to the diner set, everyone as ready to go. Lin was sitting on the left side of the table; he’d changed into a dark-blue-and-black plaid button-up shirt with a black t-shirt underneath and it just was not fair how fucking good he looked. Kinda weird that he did, given that what he was wearing earlier was also perfectly acceptable and handsome (a black-and-white small-checkered button-up underneath a black blazer). But whatever.

You were going to walk over and join him when a makeup person grabbed you and stopped you.

“Right right, sorry,” you said, closing your eyes as whatever necessary cosmetics were applied. It took less than three minutes before the makeup guy patted your shoulder and pushed you towards the table, declaring you “as ready as she’ll ever be”. You sat down in the chair next to Lin and reached at your hair, thrown a little off by the remark. Like…yeah, you knew your looks weren’t…like…Cecily levels of stunning, but…

“You look lovely,” Lin said, leaning over and saying this so only you could hear.

“Please,” you said, shifting to a comfortable position at the table. In that, one of your knees was brushing Lin’s, and if that kept happening, you’d never be able to focus. “So, we’re just gonna do the things y’all wrote for Cecily and you?”

“Yeah, but we’ll just…like, improv some ones that are more suited towards you, too,” Colin said from off-camera, prepping the cue cards. “Ready to go?”

“Yes sir,” you said.

“Let’s do this,” Lin said, propping his elbows up on the table, hands clasped.

The promos went fine. Some of them were easily relatable – Lin unable to get tickets to “Hamilton”, telling him he was really bad at rapping when he wasn’t even rapping, asking him to sign more and more ludicrous and somewhat frightening things because you were “SUCH A HUGE FAN”.

The “Lin-Manuel Samantha” one was the only promo that threw you a little. But you went along with it anyway, lifting the Cosmo at the right time as Lin began to monologue a la Sarah Jessica Parker.

“Lin, you’re not the Carrie,” you interrupted with disdain, causing Lin to look down, disappointed. “…Lorne’s the Carrie.” A brief pause. “…I feel like I’m gonna get fired for saying that.”

“You won’t.”

“Also, I’m so not a Samantha,” you sighed as you handed a prop-hand the Cosmo glass. “Like…clearly, that was a Cecily bit. Not a me bit.”

“Well, Samantha was never my favorite, so…” Lin said.

“Have you even watched ‘Sex and the City’?” you asked, crossing your arms.

“No.”

“Neither have I, but…I’m no Kim Cattrall. Crow T. Robot would never sing a song about me.” Ling gave you a look of utter bafflement.

“Who’s Crow T. Robot?” Lin asked. “And why did he write a song about Kim Cattrall?”

“It’s a Mystery Science Theater 3000 bit, you’ll need to look that up later, after ‘Suspiria’.”

“Mystery WHAT?”

“You’ve not even begun to plumb the depths to which my nerdity goes.”

“I’m kind of impressed, honestly.”

“Oh, you…really shouldn’t be.”

It was arranged that two more promos would be shot. You, Lin, and Colin teamed together to briefly discuss the schematics of each promo, and you and Lin would just ballpark it from there.

The first one was your idea. Lin gave the little “Hi, I’m Lin-Manuel Miranda” schpiel, and you gave him a confused look as he did.

“Wait, who are you?” you asked.

“Um…Lin-Manuel Miranda, I wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’,” he said, now confused as well. “Who are you?” You sat back a little, implementing a thousand-yard stare.

“…oh god…who AM I?” you asked. “I’m…just…the new girl, I have no discernible identity outside of that of which I can speak…I don’t know who I am…” You began to fake-cry. “I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM!” You folded your arms and hid your face in them as you continued to fake-cry. “WHAT IS MY NAME?!”

“Um…there…there…” Lin said awkwardly as he began to pat your back. “It’s…okay?”

“I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM!” you wailed.

“That’s…not true?” Lin consoled(?).

“Cut. What even,” Colin said, rolling his eyes at you.

“Harlan Ellison, bitch,” you said, lifting your head and giving Colin our best “come at me bro” stance.

“You are the weirdest,” he laughed.

The second promo was decidedly less weird. And even more at-your-expense-rier than the first one.

“Hey, Lin, so…I sort of played you in that one sketch last week,” you began awkwardly. Lin laughed a little, ducking his head and confirming that he remembered that. “You’re not upset, are you?”

“No, no, not at all,” Lin said (a bit too) calmly, his fingers laced together (perhaps clenched a bit too hard).

“I mean, it was all in good fun, no offense meant—”

“No, I was really flattered.”

“Oh, good…good,” you said happily, smiling wider as the waiter approached to take your order.

“Oh, great!” Lin said at the sight of the waiter. “I’ll have a burger, medium rare, no tomatoes, and she will have…let’s see, what do JERKS like to eat?” Lin’s smile was gone, and yours faltered as he continued, his joined hands pounding harder on the table as he spoke, punctuating bits. “I guess she’ll have a double order of I HATE YOU!” He slammed his hands down one more time before storming away from the table. You watched after him, unable to find words, before turning to the waiter. Before you said anything, Lin stormed back on, reaching past you for a bottle. “This is my vinegar, I brought this from home.” And then he was gone again.

“Uh…um…so…he seemed mad, right?” you asked the waiter.

“…and cut. Cool, guys,” Colin said, giving you and the waiter thumbs-ups. “We’ll get those edited and posted later today.”

***

@SNLRaiser: leftovers for days on the double order of “i hate you”. thanks, @lin_manuel. [link to promos on YouTube]

@lin_manuel: So excited to be hosting @nbcsnl this weekend! [link to promos on YouTube]

@lin_manuel: (For the record, @SNLRaiser is not a jerk, and I could never hate her. She plays me better than me. And she smells like pomegranates.)

@SNLRaiser: @lin_manuel you smell like vinegar that you brought from home.

@lin_manuel: @SNLRaiser That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. :)

@SNLRaiser: @lin_manuel don’t get used to it.

***

Wednesday was read-through-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall-of-the-sketches day. Everyone hunkered around the comedy equivalent of King Arthur’s Round Table with water bottles and open ears and minds.

Kate was waving you over when you walked in. You smiled and waved back.

“Saved you a seat, newbie!” She patted the empty chair next to her. On the other side of the empty chair…Lin. Because of course.

“Thaaaaaaanks friiiiiiiiend,” you said, glaring at her as you sat down.

“Love you, pumpkin,” she cooed as she pressed a sloppy kiss to your cheek.

“I am actually going to kill you,” you whisper-hissed into her ear while she was still close.

“For what? Saving you a seat?” she whispered back. The eyebrow waggle, though…

…yeah, she’d totes planned this. But whatever. It was getting easier to smile at Lin and act more casual.

“I like your shirt,” Lin said. You glanced down. It was a black shirt with a picture of Pinhead and the text “Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” in some sort of elegant but readable font.

“Thanks,” you said. “It’s from ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’. The fourth movie, and the last theatrically released one.”

“That’s a good line,” Lin observed.

“Quite reading my boobs.”

“Yeah, that’s my job,” Kate said, leering at your torso.

“Back off,” you said, pushing her away and turning back towards Lin. “But yeah, that line is, like, one of the only good bits in the movie. That and baby Adam Scott in an atrocious wig.”

“…wait, Ben Wyatt Adam Scott, THAT Adam Scott?”

“You will never look at ‘Parks and Rec’ the same away again.”

“Yeah, I gotta check that shit out.”

“Please do.”

Readthroughs soon began. Some of the sketches, it was pretty obvious who was going to play who – either based on the race demographic (“baby steps”), or the fact that it was a recurring character or impression. Others, there were maybe a role or two that could be meant for anyone who wasn’t immediately going into another sketch (or coming out of one with heavier makeup). Some of them, they needed a certain character to be played – a new character – and it was a matter of discerning whose impression of that person was most convincing/the funniest.

When the “Stranger Things” sketch was read through, there was a pause afterwards.

“…it feels like it’s missing something,” Sasheer said after a while. “Don’t get me wrong, the premise is awesome, with Lucas’s parents and all, and the references are solid but…”

“Yeah, did we hit every note on that one?” Colin said, flipping through the pages. “We got Lucas, his parents, Mike, Dustin, Eleven, the cop…”

“…any way Will’s mom can be worked into the sketch?” you asked, more to yourself than to the crowd, but enough people had heard your musing aloud.

“Will’s mom?”

“Yeah, just, you know, like, get a bad wig on someone, put a tangle of Christmas lights in their hands and have them say something like—” You widened your eyes and made your voice tremble as much as it could when you spoke, “I just—I have to find my son—the lights—how do I—oh, I don’t even know where I’m even supposed to start!”

The character, and your focus, broke when Lin collapsed against your shoulder, he was laughing so hard. You bit back a laugh of your own and looked over at Kate frantically. She was wiping a tear away and just murmured “Oh my god, that’s amazing”. The entire fucking room thought that that was the funniest shit, for some reason, and you really hope your face wasn’t as red as it felt.

“Yeah, that NEEDS to go in,” Colin said, making a note. “And since you suggested it and nailed that, you wanna play her?”

“If you want me to, yeah,” you said with a proud little smile.

“You have to,” Lin insisted, picking himself up from your shoulder, but replacing his head with his hand. “That was the best thing.”

“Oh my god, stop, it wasn’t,” you said, lightly shaking your shoulder out of his grasp, unable to stop smiling.

The “Substitute Teacher” sketch was, for the most part, one you were glad not to be in. Because it was cringe comedy, and cringe comedy was the thing that, when it was on your screen, you muted it and walked out of the room until it was done. Right from Lin going “Whaddup, fam”, you wanted to die a little, because…no. Just no. Honey, no.

Until he got to the bit about going out to Hollywood “for over seven weeks”. And that made you do a double-take, because…seven weeks, really, that little time?

“You know how many parts I got,” Lin asked inspiringly. “Zero. You know how many auditions I went on? OVER FOUR.”

You thumped your head down on the table in silent, desperate laughter because THAT moment was your shit. That was the kind of shit YOU pulled. Like, how many jelly beans are in this jar (clearly dozens)? Your guess? “At least two.” That was your humor.

“You okay?” Lin whispered, patting your shoulder. You swatted him away and he continued the scene.

(And Melissa’s little “And I’m quiet because I’m stunned and embarrassed for you” was also gold. Reminded you of Daria a little bit.)

You sort of loved the “Wells Fargo Wagon” sketch being about the recent Wells Fargo swindling scandal. It was one of those sketches where everyone was going to be onstage and have something to do. Everyone had at least one speaking line, along with singing that goddamn catchy “Wells Fargo Wagon” song.

Well…except for you. That was cool, though. You were gonna be Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things”, and that was enough for you.

Except, it wasn’t for other people. Lin noticed.

“Hey, did you have a line in that sketch?” he asked during a lull between read-throughs. “Or a little singing bit on your own?”

“No, but that’s okay,” you said.

“You can have my mailbox line,” Kate chimed in, resting her head on your shoulder. “I get to sing about maple sugar, so I’m good.”

“Kate, it’s really not a big deal, keep your mailbox,” you insisted. Her head popped up, and she got that wide-eyed look that only meant mischief.

“Oh, I have a BETTER idea…” She hollered, “COLIN!”

“WHAT?” he hollered back.

“We should totally work in a Marian cameo for Lin’s Harold Hill character!” Kate said. “BUT…she isn’t fooled by his bank accounts and exploding mortgages. Because she’s already with another bank. Like, whatever other bank is as old as balls as Wells Fargo.”

“It’s a good idea, but I think everyone’s already committed to something in the sketch, so…” Colin looked down at his script. Kate grabbed your arm and yanked it up into the air.

“SHE ISN’T!” Kate announced. “SHE CAN BE MARIAN!”

You were actually going to kill this matchmaking little meddler, so help you every deity…

“You really don’t have to do this—OW, my arm, Kate!” you exclaimed, retrieving your arm from her vicelike grip.

“Well, would you be willing to try it out in rehearsal tomorrow?” Colin asked.

“Sure,” you said with a thumbs-up to Colin and a side-glare to Kate.

“Yay, you get a line!” Kate simply said, clapping her hands together.

“And I get a love interest!” Lin said with equal enthusiasm.

“Hardly.”

“Yeah, that’ll be the West Side Story sketch,” Kate said, shuffling papers around. “She’ll be the Antonia to your Mario.” You whirled your head around.

“Wait, WHAT?!”

***

Sure enough, come rehearsal time on Thursday, everyone was rehearsing the West Side Story idea you’d half-baked-ingly suggested and Colin and co. had somehow turned into something really fucking funny.

You were Toni (Antonia), and Kate was Riff. Lin was Mario, Melissa was Bernadetta, and Cecily’s Sofia Vergara was Anita.

That right there made the sketch gold.

Lin got to sing snippets of “I Feel Pretty” (yes, keeping the word pretty because A: it’s so funny when guys call themselves pretty har har har; and B: it was accurate as fuck). With some lyric changes to reflect being in love with “a pretty wonderful girl”.

No white dress or red overalls, though. It would be something more fitting of the time.

The one thing that concerned you about the sketch (on a person level, not a comedy level), was Toni and Mario almost kissing. This was set to happen at least, only to be interrupted by Cecily’s shrill, dead-on Sofia Anita Vergara.

There was also slated to be an almost-kiss with Kate, acknowledging the VERY BLATANTLY OBVIOUS sexual tension between Riff and Tony in the original “West Side Story”.

“I told you you’d be making out with me on this show sooner or later,” Kate bragged, arm slung around your waist as you two left the set.

“You are really eager for that to happen,” you said with a curious air. “If you weren’t being so blatant in your attempts to be my VERY UNWANTED WINGMAN, I’d be suspicious.”

“Who am I to stand in the way of true love?” Kate sighed, leaning against you. “Yes, my heart is yours, but yours is his and his is yours, and I cannot compete with that.”

“You’re forgetting the part where his heart is very decidedly NOT mine,” you said, shrugging her off. “He’s just nice to me. Because he’s nice to everyone.” Before Kate could speak, you held a finger up. “And don’t tell me ‘oh, but he looks at you with these big puppy dog eyes full of adoration and a little horniness’ or whatever. Because that’s how he looks at everyone. That’s the look he gave his sandwich at lunch break.”

“Is it so hard to believe a guy might like you?” Kate asked.

“Yes” was your immediate answer. “Guys like him don’t go for girls like me. I’m too weird and decidedly not pretty or wonderful or pretty wonderful.”

“Then why does he actually look up all the weird shit you bring up in conversations or make jokes about?” Kate continued. “Because not even all of us do that. He’s, like, genuinely invested in your weird, kind of scary interests, not so much with the rest of us and our basic white girl tastes. And he’s always bringing you up in conversations when you’re not around. How you would love this. Did anyone get this reference that you made, it’s been bugging him all day. Like…girl…”

She trailed off, feeling that her point had been made clear.

For you, it just made things muddy.

“Just think about it, okay?” Kate asked, reaching out to touch your cheek. “Give him a chance?”

“There’ll be no chance to give, because he doesn’t want one,” you said, steadfast. “Please stop trying to force it more than you already have.”

“…okay…promise.”

Kate gave you a hug. Like, a genuine, “you are my friend” hug, not the joking “invading your personal bubble” hugs.

“I’m sorry for making you uncomfortab—”

“No, Kate, it’s fine, it’s just…” You hugged her back. “It’s hard. Trying not to like him as much as I do and get those stupid hopes up by being so close to him all the time.”

“Well…can I be your rebound?”

You smacked the back of her head.

“You’re ridiculous,” you half-scolded, half-laughed. “But yes, okay? If that’ll make you happy.”

“I am ECSTATIC!” she cried, punching her fist in the air. “I’m OFF TO TAKE THE WORLD!” With that, she charged off towards one rehearsal (for the cast party sketch), while you headed the other way.

You were only slated for the three sketches – Stranger Things, West Side Story, and Wells Fargo Wagon. So you spent time helping put together the sets for the “Diego Calls His Mom” filmed sketch (cornfields and a phone booth. Niiiiiiiice). That one required little to no rehearsal; Lin had been given a set of talking points, phrases to mention, but everything else…it was just going to be him.

You ended up peeking from around a corner while they filmed it. Watching Lin scratch the back of the pay card and dial a number. Unable to hold back a smile at his questioning, then joyous “Hello Mama?…Hi, Mama!”

It was so genuine and sweet and funny (because “marshmallow salad” would always be funny) and you just felt love radiating from that phone booth.

It was done in one take. Lin nailed every beat. He hung up the phone.

That clicked you back into reality, and you quickly darted away from the set before he could turn his head up to see you.

It wasn’t until halfway down the hall you realized there were tears streaming down your face and you didn’t know why.

***

Friday came and with it, Vanessa grabbing you by the arm as soon as you walked in.

“We have a problem, and you’re our only hope,” she said, somewhat harried.

“Um…okay, Princess Leia. What can Obi-Wan do for you?” you asked, trying to joke.

“Cecily called in with a stomach bug,” Vanessa said, guiding you towards a room where all the costumes were kept.

“Shit, I’m sorry, do you want me to, like, get her soup or something?” you asked.

“No, we were set to film ‘Crucible Cast Party’ today,” Vanessa explained. “And she was in it. And Leslie and Sasheer can’t do the sketch, but we can’t get it done without a replacement and…it’s good, it’s REALLY good, so…”

“Yeah, of course, I mean…” You hadn’t even finished when Vanessa was flinging a costume into your arms. “Um, I don’t know what all the sketch entails, but depending, I can do it.”

“Great, you’re a lifesaver, now get dressed.”

“What, are we filming now?”

“No, after we record vocals. But this’ll just save time.”

She thrusted a sheet of paper into your already-full hands.

“Vanessa, these are just the lyrics, what about the script? Like, what do I do?”

“Music first, film-y bits later!”

You hadn’t heard anything about “Crucible Cast Party” up until this point. The music ended up being a sort of sexy jam about horny teenagers who don’t know how to flirt, while throwing in every painfully accurate high school theatre reference to be made.

There was a line about character shoes (one of your lines…Cecily’s lines…oddly enough). Vanessa sung about taking the hat of the guy she likes and “just sorta walk[ing] around”. You gave Lin the hardest side-eye, to which he gave you the puppiest of puppy-dog eyes.

Then came Lin’s verse. And god, the look on your face must have been priceless. Like, you didn’t even have time to fully register the “Mr. Triple Threat” line because it just went by SO FAST. The Melissa belted out a melisma that put several pop stars to shame and you continued to do your best to try and sound sexy while singing.

The bits in the Puritanical costumes (and then the sexified Puritanical costumes) were next. Which involved a LOT of bedroom eyes and trying to appear legitimately sexy. Again, not a thing you were suited to. This was a Cecily thing. This should be a Cecily thing. But hey. All you could do was try your best. And then do your best to ignore them filming Lin’s Cody Shuck moments on the same set. And his stupid blond wig. And his stupid fake braces. And his stupid pink hoodie and Godspell T-shirt and grey blazer. And the stupid way he licked and bit his stupid his lips in an (admittedly successful) effort to be sexy.

Stupid Sexy Shuck.

The party bits started off fun enough. Approaching a couple of young orange men and giving them the character shoe version of the Mrs. Robinson leg from “The Graduate”. The massage train bits, where you did your best to give Aidy a legit backrub (“You can go harder, that’s fine…actually, hit that spot again—YEP, that did the trick”).

Then came Cody’s entrance. And the urging of ladies to “take off [your] tops”.

“This feels so awkward,” you said, fiddling with the hem of your sweater as they prepped to shoot the scene.

“C’mon, lady, gimme a show!” Kate hollered. “I’ll throw money at you! Be warned, though, all I have is coins, so you might get hurt.”

“Just…let me know if I’m coming off as sexy,” you pleaded.

“You’re already there, babe,” Kate said.

“You’re biased,” you shot back.

Oh well, cameras rolled, you teased the audience with the slightest glimpse of your navel and gave what you hoped was a “come hither” stare and not a “Children of the Damned” stare. As soon as “Cut” was yelled, you dropped the sweater and bolted off camera.

“Hon, I just came, like, five times,” Kate said, sauntering over to you to give you a hug. She wrapped one leg around yours to press your body against hers.

“Oh my god, stop,” you laughed. “You’re making people uncomfortable.” Sure enough, you glanced over Kate’s shoulder and saw Lin averting his gaze. (He seemed to have been doing the same thing when you were actually filming the bit with the sweater, too. So…there was that.)

“C’mon, Kate, let her go,” he finally said, his voice sounding a little strained if you listened hard enough. “I need a selfie with my braces buddy.”

“Braces Buddies!” Kate cheered, hugging Lin in the exact same way she’d just been hugging you. You walked away from that particular scene and back in front of the camera for the next bit.

Now, putting a show shirt on over your sweater and freaking out like “ZOMG A SHOW SHIRT”. That was easier. Even if you hated orange because it was a good color on specifically not you.

So was fangirling over Lin and asking him to sign the posters that looked nothing like him. And so was reacting to whatever his “big secret” was.

And he was trying to throw you, Melissa, and Aidy off by whispering ridiculous things. Things like, “I’m actually a brunette; this is just a wig” and “How did you get in my house? Get the fuck out before I call the police”.

And partying with all the extras with cans of Sprite and equally hideous orange show shirts, right up until Lin dabbed (again, apparently), and Aidy and Kate tried to start out-melisma-ing each other. You and Melissa joined in, and soon the room was full of a chorus of melismas of varying qualities. Before Cody’s mom came screaming “ENOUGH!” And Lin gave the most perfect little embarrassed “Mom!”

And that was it, you were done, right? You figured, because all the extras were dispersing, so you began to follow them, taking your show shirt off in the process, until Vanessa stopped you.

“You’ve gotta film that last scene with Lin,” she said.

“…what scene?”

“The bedroom scene.”

“…bedroom scene?”

“Yeah, the whole bit about ‘lay you on the bed and whisper in your ear’, that was gonna be Cecily, so…”

Oh.

“Oh. …sorry, I didn’t know, I never saw the script.”

“No, it’s cool. I mean, unless you have something else you need to be doing right now—”

“No, no, I can do it,” you said, much more nonchalant than you were feeling.

“Thanks again so much for stepping in on such short notice,” Vanessa said with a grateful smile.

“Hey, it was fun,” you said. And it had been. You just wished Cecily could have been there for the fun, too. Yeah, that would have meant you WOULDN’T have been in the sketch but…where were you going with this? Whatever.

When you got to the bedroom set, Lin was sitting on the edge of the bed, typing something on his phone. He looked up at the sound of your footsteps and gave you a small smile.

“Hey,” he said, patting the spot next to him.

“Hey,” you said as you sat down. You looked around the set. “I like your musical posters.”

“Thanks.”

“…so, what happens in this scene? I never actually saw the script and Vanessa gave me very few details, so…I don’t know what you and Cecily practiced or had in mind.”

“The lyrics are kinda self-explanatory,” Lin said. “I’ll lay you on the bed and whisper in your ear that Mrs. Donahue said we could do ‘Rent’ this year.”

“OH MY GOD RENT!” you screamed in fake excitement.

“That’s actually exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Lin laughed. “Immediately stop being turned on by me at the prospect of getting to be in ‘Rent’.”

“Poor Cody Shuck – always getting cock-blocked by musicals from the 90s,” you sighed, bringing a hand to your heart. Lin laughed again while fidgeting with his phone.

“Hey, wanna film something with me for Twitter real quick?” Lin asked, holding his phone up.

“Um…sure?” you said. “What did you have in mind?”

“I dunno…like…’intimate moment with @SNLRaiser in Cody Shuck’s bedroom…singing…I dunno, what’s, like, the least sexiest thing you can think of?”

“Me,” you said with zero hesitation. Lin looked up at you so quickly, poor man probably suffered mild whiplash. You raised your eyebrows. “Hey, look at me in this stupid sweater and tell me it isn’t true.”

“It’s not true.” Your turn for the whiplash. “Like, I know Kate was joking about it earlier but…she’s not wrong.”

…well…fuck…what do you say to that?

“Ooh, hey, just got an idea,” Lin said suddenly, breaking the weird tension that had descended upon the two of you. “So, I listened to that Fall Out Boy song from your Twitter.”

“What?” You were still stuck on the “wait, Lin thinks I’m SEXY?!” train of thought.

“From your Twitter earlier this week? You quoted a Fall Out Boy song at the end of—”

“Right, right, how to do an impression of you, okay, yes, that.”

“That’s a great song, by the way.”

“Yeah, you should tell Fall Out Boy that.”

“Well, I could say something like ‘you’re helping me work on my impression of me’ and then the video could be of us singing ‘Alone Together’. Well. YOU sing, and I’ll do all the backup bits. The ‘yeah’s’ and the harmonies or whatever.”

“Okay.” Lin leaned in a little closer to you and held his phone out.

“Wait, hold on,” he said, reaching up and taking his hat off before placing it on your head.

“…what for?” you asked, hand going to the hat.

“Looks cute on you,” he said with a shrug. You looked at his now-bare head. Well…not completely bare.

“…that wig does not,” you said. Lin elbowed you. “So, just the chorus or what?”

“Yeah, chorus,” Lin said, posing his thumb over the “record’ button. You leaned more into frame before his thumb went down on the red button.

“Say yeah—” you sang.

“Yeah!” Lin echoed.

“Let’s be alone together—”

“Yeah!”

“We can stay young forever—”

“Yeah!”

“Scream it from the top of your lu-lu-lungs, say yeah—”

“Yeah!”

“Let’s be alone together—”

“Yeah!”

“We can stay young forever—”

“Yeah!”

“We’ll stay young-young-young, young, young…”

When the chorus was over, Lin moved on to the little “bum-bum-bum, ba-da-da-daaaa.” that followed the first chorus of the song. You looked over at him with amusement as he bopped to the beat of the song; when he looked over at you, you said “You’re a dork”. The short video ended with you two giggling at each other.

“Oh, thanks for that, that’ll be fun,” Lin said, pocketing his phone. “I’m under strict orders from Lorne not to share any behind-the-scenes stuff until after the episode airs, so…some time next week?”

“If you decide it’s good enough to share, that is.”

“It’s got you singing and wearing a cute hat, of course it is.” You took said “cute hat” off and placed it back on his head, careful not to mess up the placement of the wig.

“You gotta stop saying things like that,” you scolded gently.

“What things?”

“Nice things.”

“You mean true things.”

“They’re not true things. They’re nice things. Nice and true are not the same.”

Before Lin could argue the point, places were called. You stood up and stepped away from Lin, towards the spot where you were pointed. Lin followed soon enough, because…well, he was going to lay you down on the bed. This was required.

“Okay, hold places!”

You stood close to Lin in a strained silence. Close enough for you to be touching, but neither of you actually touching.

“So…come here often?” you asked in a desperate bid to make things less awkward. Lin snorted.

“I’m sure Cody Shuck does, he IS a teenager and this IS his bedroom.” You looked up at Lin; your face probably read as a mixture of mortification and suppressed laughter.

“I can’t believe you just said that,” you said as Lin tried valiantly to hold back his laughter.

“Yeah, well…”

“Mucho masturbation,” you sang, hearkening to the upcoming “Rent” freakout.

“Shh!—Shut up!” Lin was doing his damndest not to bust into a laughing fit.

“Okay okay okay…serious faces.” You closed your eyes and tried to focus, faintly aware of the director telling Lin when the music would be cued in for him to start lip-syncing (shortly after laying you down).

At the touch of a hand on your waist, you opened your eyes. Lin was closer now. Very close. Instinctively, you ducked your head, causing some of your hair to fall in your face. With one hand still on your waist, Lin reached up and tucked your hair behind your ear, his knuckles brushing against your cheek and lingering there for too long of a moment.

You dared to look up at him again. It was dark enough in the room that you couldn’t read his eyes, or get a full sense of what was going through his mind.

“Action!”

Lin backed you up toward the bed slowly, his hands shifting to your back as he lowered you gently on to the mattress. He wasn’t quite over you, more to your right side, but his face remained close to yours as the two of you moved. You were barely able to hold his gaze.

When he moved away to reposition himself, you focused on a spot on the ceiling as the music cued (earlier in the song, to give Lin enough time to pick up the cue). His breath hit your neck and your cheek as he leaned in to whisper in your ear:

“Mrs. Donahue said we could do ‘Rent’ this year.”

You looked slightly further away, your eyes widening with excitement as you mouthed “RENT!” towards the camera. Lin leaned slightly over you, in towards the camera as he carried out the rest of the verse:

“I can’t wait for rehearsal, I’ma be in it to win it, we start in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes!”

As he finished the line, he looked back down at you. Whether it was him or Cody, you didn’t know. But the look in his eyes was so intense. And he was so focused on you. And he was leaning in closer and closer…

“Cut!”

In almost a split second, Lin was off of you. And as soon as you got the okay to leave – they had what they needed, no need to do more takes – you left the set. Trying your best to make it seem like you weren’t just RUNNING out of there, ignoring calls of your name, murmuring half-hearted apologies to anyone you bumped into. But your head was spinning and your heart was pounding and you couldn’t fucking breathe because…

…it just seemed too real. And it wasn’t real. You knew it wasn’t real. There was no way that could possibly be real.

You ducked into the dressing room to change back into your street clothes. Kate was sitting at the mirror, wiping off the last vestiges of some makeup.

“You okay?” she asked. “How’d it go?”

“It went,” you said as you checked the time on your phone. The shoot had taken up most of the day. “You think I have enough time to grab something to eat?”

“Maybe?” Kate shrugged. “I’d go ask Colin, I don’t know what’s next. He’s a little in panic mode because breaking news, so…”

“Oooooohhhhhh,” you said. “So that might shift schedules around?”

“Yeah, but I’d go check.”

“Will do. Thanks.”

As you opened the door, you bumped into…

“…Cecily?”

“We…didn’t expect to see you here.” Kate sounded genuinely surprised.

“I wasn’t gonna come in but Colin said it was an emergency and if I could manage—”

“Are you feeling better?” you asked.

“What?” Cecily seemed confused. Which confused you.

“Vanessa said you’d come down with a stomach bug and called in for the day, asked me to fill in for you for the cast party sketch. We figured you wouldn’t be in until tomorrow.”

“Oh. Right.”

You didn’t like that little smile on her face.

“…were you sick?” you asked, trying to keep the anger out of your voice.

“…okay, no, I wasn’t,” Cecily began to explain, “but I DID call in and told people to TELL them I had a stomach bug.”

“Why?” you asked, hating the tremor in your voice.

“Well, you and Lin—”

Whatever she was saying next, you didn’t even hear, and she didn’t get far into it. You whirled around to look at Kate.

“Were you in on this?!” you demanded.

“I swear, I had no idea–” Kate began.

“Another genius matchmaking scheme? Kate, you PROMISED.”

“Did something go wrong?” Cecily asked. “Are you oka—?”

“Don’t talk to me.” You pointed at her. Then Kate. “Either of you.” You grabbed your purse and made a beeline for Colin’s office, where he and Michael were hunched over some papers. You knocked on the door rapidly.

“Colin, did you need me for anything else tonight?” you asked, closing your eyes, leaning against the door, willing your breathing to calm down.

“You okay?” Michael asked, causing Colin to look up.

“I’m…really not, I think I need to go home,” you said, voice trembling the tiniest bit, goddamn it.

“Are you feeling sick?”

“No—yeah—a little, I just…” Christ, you couldn’t form thoughts right now. “I’ll—I’ll be in tomorrow, I’ll be fine, I just…need to be home right now.”

“Okay…” Colin said, standing up. “Call if anything changes, all right?” You nodded, managing a brave smile. He smiled and clapped you on the shoulder. “Okay, we’ll see you tomorrow. Feel better.”

“Thanks, Colin.”

You couldn’t get out of that building fast enough. You were only faintly aware of a couple of people calling your name – just a few times until they realized you weren’t stopping, and then gave up. Someone grabbed your arm at one point, but you just yanked it away, because you were on a mission.

Mission: get yourself the fuck home before you completely broke down crying.

Status of mission: successful.

***

You received a long text from Kate later that night.

“I’m sorry. I swear, I had no idea Cecily was going to do that and essentially force you into the sketch. But I talked to her and she knows not to do that anymore, and she feels awful about the whole thing. I don’t know what happened with Lin while you two were filming the bedroom scene (if it was anything bad, tell me so I can kick his ass for hurting my newbie), but…

Cecily’s only defense for her actions was that she KNOWS that he likes you, and she knew you liked him. Then she sent me this, from when Lin was on Jimmy Fallon earlier this week. You can watch it. You don’t have to. I simply present it as her line of defense for her matchmaking actions.

…match-mactions.

…did that get you to smile or laugh? I hope it did.

If you need distance tomorrow, that’s fine. Cecily and I will respect that.”

Your thumb hovered over the hyperlink to the video for a long while. Lowering, then raising back up. Repeat the cycle for a few minutes.

Fuck it.

You clicked it.

“You’re hosting ‘Saturday Night Live’.” The clip began with Jimmy saying this.

“I KNOW!” Lin’s excitement – in spite of everything that happened today, the turmoil your feelings were in – was infectious. And you laughed.

Lin talked for a while on how he was a fan of SNL for years, how his favorite episode was the one that Fred Savage hosted when he was about Lin’s age at the time. The whole exchange – from Lin’s enthusiastic recounting of bits from the episode to Jimmy being sort of blown back by the wave of memories long forgotten – was adorable as fuck.

“Did you see last week’s episode?” Jimmy asked.

“Yes, Unbelievable, so good,” Lin began to say, when Jimmy continued the thread of where this was going.

“You – they did an impression of you,” Jimmy said.

“So, do you know what happened?” Lin said, sitting up. “So they—I was at the premiere of the Hamilton documentary at the New York Film Festival and…Lindsay, who works on the show, emailed us and said ‘Um, there’s an impression of you tonight’.” He laughed for a moment as he mimed being on his phone. “And I looked at my phone, and I looked up at Chris – Chris Jackson – and I said ‘We have to go home’.”

Jimmy laughed. The audience laughed.

“You’ve gotta see—” Jimmy began.

“Yeah, we had to go home – I had to, at the very least,” Lin continued. “And I did, I ran home to go watch—”

“It was a Family Feud – sort of a Celebrity Family Feud episode and…” Jimmy looked down at his cue cards to read your name. There was sort of a question mark at the end of how he said it, either from not knowing quite who you were, or hoping he pronounced your name right.

“One of the new cast members,” Lin said, his smile brightening at the mention of your name.

“Yeah, she played you.”

“I KNOW. Just…the GREATEST, right?!”

“I—I wanna show a clip, because it’s SO good, look at this,” Jimmy said, one again saying you name as he introduced the clip, which then began to play.

You snorted at Kenan’s calling your Lin “the number one rapper on PBS” because that was still such a good line. And then after flubbing on Lin’s name, the camera cut to you giving the camera an intense “you are my everything” stare before breaking out into a short rap:

“The thing though, Steve, when you’re asking for words is/My mind starts going with a couple of verses/Not ‘versus’ as in the left and the right/It’s the right and the wrong that keeps me up at night.”

You-as-Lin clasped your hands together and brought them to your mouth and looked away from the camera with a wistful expression as the crowd from last Saturday cheered. From offscreen, you heard Jimmy and Lin laughing as the camera cut back to a befuddled Kenan.

“Was there a beat that I didn’t hear?” he asked. More laughter and cheers as the scene faded out and Lin and Jimmy faded back in.

“Pretty cool, right?” Jimmy said.

“It’s pretty cool!” Lin agreed.

“She’ll probably be glad to hear that, she seemed a little nervous on Twitter,” Jimmy said, rifling through his notes.

“Aw…”

“But then she gave everyone tips on how to better their impressions of you—”

“I saw that!”

“How accurate is she?”

“I mean…” Lin gave a gesture towards himself. “She played me better than I play me on my best days. I need to step up my game, clearly.”

“II think my favorite is step is ‘Step 3: be made of literal sunshine’.”

“She is,” Lin said right away. Jimmy looked up from his notes.

“Oh, so you’ve met her already?” Jimmy confirmed.

“Yeah, the first meeting about Saturday’s episode was yesterday and…” Lin trailed off, his hands flailing as though to find the right words. “She is fascinating. Her MIND is fascinating. Like…” He held his hands out to Jimmy as if to say “stick with me on this”. “Here’s a short list of the references she’s made since I’ve met her.” He started to count on his fingers. “‘West Side Story’. Prog rock bands. Fall Out Boy. ‘Hellraiser’. Dario Argento. Bjork. The Bjork one was actually in the other bit from the sketch you didn’t show. You know, the ‘love is love is love’.”

“Right, from your acceptance speech at the Tonys.”

“Yes, but she goes ‘love is love is love is love is all is full of love’. Which is the name of a Bjork song, ‘All is Full of Love’. And…like, I don’t know if that was written in the script, if it was her idea if it was scripted, or if she just threw it in because her brain went there, but…”

“She sounds interesting,” Jimmy said with a small chuckle.

“She’s incredible,” Lin half-sighed. “Like, I can’t wait to go back and find out what she thinks of next. She’s gonna be amazing on the show. For the show.”

“Well, definitely tune in for that this Saturday, folks,” Jimmy said, turning towards the audience. “We’ll be right back!”

The screen faded to black.

You clicked back to your text function to message Kate back.

“even if cecily is right, i do not deserve him.”

You shut your phone off for the night and crawled into bed, waiting to cry yourself to sleep.

***

@SNLRaiser: tonight on @nbcsnl our guest host @lin_manuel will kill me. it will be painless and impeccably rapped unlike my impression of him last week.

***

Dress rehearsal went off without too many hitches. You showed up literally right on call time and managed to just avoid EVERYONE until dress started. You went onstage for your sketches, and as soon as they were over, slipped away before anyone could say a word to you. You gave your dress performances…maybe 70%. Because there was less pressure. And really, you just needed to make sure you were completely mentally prepared to keep it together for the live performance.

Leslie was the first one to find your hiding place before the live performance, She poked her head in before giving a softer smile than was the norm for her.

“There’s my newbie girl!” she cooed, walking over and wrapping you up in her arms.

“Hi, Leslie,” you said weakly, returning the hug.

“I saw that ‘Crucible Cast Party’ video,” Leslie said when she let go of you. “Girl, that was so great of you to step in for Cecily. You killed it.”

“Thanks.”

“Same with your Winona Ryder. That shit’s just as hilarious as when you brought it up at table reads.”

“Thanks.”

“…okay, what’s wrong, baby girl?” Leslie touched your cheek. “You’ve seemed so sad tonight and it’s hurting my heart.”

“I’m fine, Leslie, it’s just been kind of a weird week.”

“Anyone been giving you shit about anything?” Leslie said, voice lowering, a fierce look in her eyes. “‘Cause if I need to cut a bitch, kick an ass, cut an ass, kick a bitch, or any combo of the four, I will.”

“Oh my god, Leslie, none of those things. I’m just…it’s just been one of those weeks, you know? Where every day just kind of sucks for no reason? That’s it.”

“Okay…that sounds fake, but okay.”

“Didn’t I give you that same line earlier this week, and didn’t you tell me not to quote tired old memes at you?”

“Yeah, but I’m older, tired-er, and meme-ier than you, so it’s okay when I do it.”

“Point taken.”

“You gonna be okay for the show tonight?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, baby girl. See you onstage.”

She gave you one more hug and the brightest smile she’d given you yet before she left. You worked with some good people. With good intentions.

…damn it. You needed to find Kate and Cecily and talk to them. Make apologies happen, from you and from them. Just…get things cleared up and hope you hadn’t burned bridges because they were just trying to help and just wanted to see you happy.

As you left your hiding place to fulfill this goal, you stopped at the sight of Lin. He stopped too.

“…hey.”

“…hey.”

“I tried to find you before dress rehearsal,” Lin said. “I…don’t think you wanted to be found. But…I wanted to make sure you were okay before the show started because…you got out of here, like, really fast yesterday. I tried to talk to you and you seemed kind of…I don’t know, in a daze or on a mission or something because you didn’t hear me or maybe you just didn’t WANT to hear me and…” He broke off, looking away and running a hand through his hair. “I just want to make sure it wasn’t something I did. Something at cast party filming, maybe, or maybe it was just from grabbing your arm when you were leaving because I was trying to get your attention.”

So that’s who that had been.

“It wasn’t your fault,” you said. “Not…not entirely.”

You wouldn’t tell him THE truth. But you could tell him A truth of sorts.

“It was the bed scene,” you began to explain. “I’ve never been in a situation like that before with…anyone. As an actor or otherwise. And…I don’t know, I got sort of wrapped up in my head and overthought it because…new situation that I never imagined myself in unless it was with someone I really loved and trusted, and there’s been no one so…”

“So…I did make you uncomfortable,” Lin said.

“No! No—well…” You paused. “Even if it hadn’t been you, I still probably would have freaked. So no. It was the situation. Not you.”

“…okay.”

He sounded so unsure. So…fuck it. You threw caution to the wind, walked up to him, and wrapped your arms around him.

“If I was uncomfortable, I would not be hugging you,” you whispered. He hugged you back, clinging to you as though you were going to run away from him again. “You didn’t. I’m okay.”

“I would never have forgiven myself if I had,” he said quietly. You looked up at him.

“I’m okay.”

“So…we’re good for tonight?”

“You’re gonna crush it.”

“Well, I know THAT.”

You punched him in the arm.

“Dork.”

“I meant…well…we’re sort of love interests in two of the sketches. I just had to make sure everything would be cool afterwards.”

“Lin, it’s fine. It acting, it doesn’t mean anything. You don’t have to actually like me in those sketches, I know you don’t.”

“…right.”

“…okay. Good talk. I’ll let you go crush it.”

“See you in Iowa circa 1912?

“See you then.”

***

Your first sketch of the night was, indeed, the Wells Fargo Wagon sketch. It played out swimmingly – Winthrop with his lisp, the goddamn catchy song, and Lin’s declaring he was going to give everyone at least three bank accounts before he was gone.

“This whole town needs bank accounts!” Lin declared, pointing at various people. “Like you, sir! And you, ma’am! And this skinny gentleman over here!”

“…that’s a mailbox,” Kate looking next to her.

(Probably your favorite line in the sketch. Next to Lin’s “…everybody hates this kid, right?” in regards to Winthrop.)

You patiently waited for your cue and tried not to break composure when Kenan got decked by Lin for trying to start the “Trouble in River City” song. And then proceeded to stumble around in a daze (Lin almost broke at that, you were pretty sure). Lin followed this brief moment of violence up with a claim that Wells Fargo had taken his daughter.

“…no, they didn’t,” Bobby’s Mayor Shinn said.

“Okay, you got me,” Lin admitted. “I don’t have a daughter. I don’t even have a wife.”

You walked on, reading a small book.

“Look, it’s Marian the Librarian!” Winthrop exclaimed lispily as you passed.

“Winthrop, don’t spit on the books, I tell you time and time again,” you sighed as you walked.

“Well, hel-LO, Madam Librarian,” Lin said smoothly, sauntering up to you and blocking your path. “What do you say we open up a joint bank account? Along with the seven other bank accounts I’m going to give you?” You stepped to the side to walk past him.

“Not interested,” you said. “I’ve been a faithful customer of Citibank for years, and I don’t intend to change that fact.”

Line looked thrown for the slightest moment, but would not be deterred. He took your wrist and spun you into his arms.

“I don’t care if you’re with another bank…even though our rates are so much better,” he said. “You could still be the sadder and wiser girl for me.”

“Oh, so because I work at a library, that makes me pathetic, is that it?” you asked, shrugging your way out of his arms. He floundered for words for a few moments as the audience laughed. You smiled politely at him and raised your book. “Step off, my someone, or I will shove this Balzac up your Balzac and it WILL hurt,” you threatened sweetly.

“Fair enough, ma’am!” he exclaimed almost immediately. You rolled your eyes and walked offstage, walking past a scandalized Kate.

“BALZAC?!” she exclaimed, aghast.

“Ye gods, pick-a-little talk-a-little on your own time, you reticent bitch,” you snapped as you walked offstage. You lingered off-camera to watch the rest of the scene play out. The ending “Wellth Fargo—THOWWY” from Winthrop was picture perfect fucking hilarious.

You were getting ready to rush to the dressing room when a hand wrapped around your wrist.

“Lin, we’ve got another sketch in, like…really fucking soon minutes,” you hissed.

“I just need a selfie with my Marian real quick,” he said, taking his phone out of his costume pocket.

“Really, Lin? You really kept your phone on you?” you said as Lin leaned in close.

“Smile, Madam Librarian!” was all he said. You turned to the phone and smiled.

“Great. That’s done. I gotta go get Winona-fied,” you said.

“Thank you, darling,” he said, pressing a quick kiss to your cheek before he walked away in the opposite direction. Your footsteps faltered, and you turned to look at where he’d walked off.

Um…what had just happened?

***

The “Stranger Things” sketch went as well as predicted. And god, you really hoped you’d get another chance to play Will’s mom at some point because that laugh was your biggest yet.

(Although Kenan’s “Ohhhhhhhhh no, this lady done lost her damn mind!” probably also helped in that regard.)

***

The West Side Story sketch was in the format of a trailer. Still images of text intercut with snippets of scenes from the “show” or “film” panning out after the announcer prattled on about some stuff.

And it all was going really well. Kate as Riff danced a little (half the Jerome Robbins inspired stuff, half her own Kate-esque dance moves), Cecily’s Sofia Vergara as Anita got some laughs (“I loooooooooove to be in America!”), and the writing, in general, was solid.

It was when the scene between your Toni and Lin’s Mario first meet came that things…happened.

It carried out per usual – the two of you see each other for the first time, boom, love at first sight, you approach each other as the trailer announcer blathers on about star-crossed lovers. You met in the middle, and just smiled at each other. Looked at each other like you were the most important thing in the world.

At least, that’s how Lin looked at you.

“It’s too much to believe,” you quoted directly from the film. “You’re not making a joke?”

Cruel irony. It WOULD be too much to believe, and life was making the joke. You hope the intrusive thought didn’t make you falter from your dreamy expression.

“I have not yet learned how to joke that way,” Lin said, brushing his fingers across your cheek. “I think now I never will.”

And fuck, he sounded so sincere. His smile was so sincere. It hurt your heart.

Now here, you both were supposed to lean in and almost kiss, only to be interrupted by Riff, Bernadetta, and Sofia!Anita.

What ACTUALLY happened was:

Lin took your face in both hands and kissed you.

Straight. Up. Kissed you.

You gasped through your nose, your eyes snapped shut, and your hands flew up in surprise. The crowd fucking lost it. You could practically hear Lorne having an aneurysm somewhere in the building.

Still, Lin did not pull away.

Your hands fluttered down to rest on top of his as something inside you clicked—

Oh.

That scene from “West Side Story”. When Tony and Maria see each other for the first time and the rest of the world blurs away and it’s only them in their own little dream world.

You GOT that now.

The spell was broken by Kate’s walking up to you with (what you would later see was) expression of disgusted confusion and a cry of “WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL?”

That was when Lin broke the kiss. Not focused on angry!baffled Riff/genuinely!baffled Kate. Or on the cheering and laughing audience. Just you. With a tinge of fright in his eyes, as though he’d just screwed everything up.

“HANDS! OFF! MY GIRLFRIEND!” Kate punctuated every word with a finger jabbing into Lin’s chest as she pushed him away.

“Mario, what’s goin’ on here?” Melissa asked as Lin was pushed back towards him. That question was then answered by Kate pulling you close, her arm snaking around your waist, and planting a kiss on your lips.

Okay, THIS you could work with, you thought as she dipped you down in all of the efforts to outdo Lin’s Mario (and possibly also to distract you from what Lin had just done). This made sense for the audience to cheer and laugh at because it was typical SNL antics. Made only better by a long confused nasal “WHAAAAAAAAT?” courtesy of Cecily.

Kate broke the kiss, twirled you back up into a standing position, and turned to snarl at Lin.

“MY ANTONIA!” she declared. “MINE!”

“Okay, calm down, Willa Cather,” you managed to say, patting Kate gently on the shoulder.

“NOBODY GETS THAT REFERENCE, YOU BIG DORK!” she screamed in your face.

“Geez, I’m on YOUR side!—you know what, I’m not even gonna try.”

You don’t really remember the rest of how the scene played out – something about the Jets and the Sharks realizing they had a common enemy in Officer Krupke and co., then teaming up to take down the system that pitted them against each other in the first place. Happy ending for everyone.

And as you predicted, the almost-kiss became another real kiss, courtesy of Lin. This time, though, you were prepared for that. Prepared enough to stay in character and respond accordingly, your hands resting between his face and neck, your mouth turning up into a smile for the kiss.

Falling into the character and the pretense enough for those few moments to pretend it was real.

As soon as the light behind your eyelids dimmed, scene done, cameras off, commercial break airing, you broke away from him. It must have thrown him off, because you only barely heard him whisper your name in a question as you walked off the set.

Back to your hiding place from earlier that day. You turned the lock and, for good measure, shoved a chair under the doorknob (so even if someone had a key, they were NOT getting in). And as soon as this was completed, it occurred to you just how shaky your knees were and how long you’d been holding your breath, and you collapsed on to the nearest couch.

You couldn’t cry. You were so overwhelmed with so many feelings that you couldn’t even cry. Your head was swirling, from lack of oxygen, from shock, from so many questions…

…but all questions just came back to why.

There was a knock at the door. Your name on someone’s lips. You couldn’t tell who.

“…I’m not dressed,” you called, blindly reaching for your street clothes to get this costume off you as quickly as possible. More words coming from them, but honestly, you couldn’t hear much; it all sounded muffled like the adults in “Charlie Brown” cartoons. “I’m not going out for bows and goodbyes, I’m not ready!” The voice was continuing, maybe there were two of them or more and you could not handle it. “CHRIST, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Your shirt was balled in your hand, clenched so tight the fabric was threading between your fingers. You closed your eyes, willed yourself to try and stop shaking, to try and get some semblance of control back.

But how was that even going to happen thanks to…

No.

You practically ripped your costume off and put your own clothes back on, and as soon as you’d finished dressing, there was a softer knock, and another call of your name.

It was Lorne.

…well, you had to talk to him. He was sort of your boss.

You pressed your hands to your face for a moment (god, it felt hot, you were probably tomato red, nothing you could do about that), and you moved the chair to open the door. There was Lorne. He didn’t look mad…or like he’d had an aneurysm…he looked concerned.

“Everything all right?” he asked. “Some of the others are a little worried.”

“I’m sorry,” you said. “I just…that…” You gestured weakly, struggling for words, unable to tell the truth because how could you tell Lorne about your own stupid crush-y feelings. (You’d rather die.)

“Is this because of the kiss? Do you think you’re in trouble?”

“…yeah.” Not a complete lie. “I mean…it wasn’t how we rehearsed, I didn’t…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lorne said with a gentle smile. “It’s not even the worst kiss that’s been on this show.”

“I know, I just…I didn’t see it coming, and—”

“So it was Lin’s decision?”

“Yes, I had no idea he was going to…” You broke off, getting back to the other reasoning. “And I’ve still got those ‘I’m the new person’ nerves and just…really don’t want to do anything that would make you think less of me or want to fire me.”

“You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think you were capable of a great many things,” Lorne assured you. “You’ve only done two episodes; that’s not enough time to decide if a mistake was made or not.” He paused, wincing a little, because that wasn’t really all that reassuring. “But a lot of people want to see you stick around. Both in front of the camera and off of it. You’ve got a lot of potential, and I want to see that potential grow.”

“…thank you, Lorne,” you said. You wiped away a tear, unable not to cry at such a lovely reason and your lovely boss. “And I’m sorry I didn’t go out for bows, I just—”

“Hey, your well-being comes first – physical, emotional, mental, whatever,” Lorne said. “If your biggest hiccup tonight was not being there for the host to say goodnight to everyone, then you had a good night.”

“Okay,” you nodded. “And…I’m sorry for…I’m sure I freaked some people out with…how I reacted…”

“I know Kate and Cecily in particular are concerned for you,” Lorne said. And he said some more stuff, but you didn’t hear it because it clicked.

Kate and Cecily.

Lin kissing you.

…you really hoped it wasn’t…

“Thanks, Lorne,” you said with a smile. “I’ll go talk to them. Have a good night.”

As soon as Lorne left…as soon as you knew he was leaving for the night…as soon as you rounded a corner and didn’t have to keep the pretense…

You quickened your pace. You set your face in stone. You set your sights on the man you knew was looking for you – the man who had kissed you in front of all your coworkers and literally thousands of people – and watched that look of relief, that small smile, those starry eyes…you watched all of it dim.

His name had barely escaped your lips when you trampled over his words with one question:

“Did Kate or Cecily put you up to it?”

“…wait, wh—?”

“Did. Kate. Or. Cecily. Put. You. Up. To. It.”

“Put me up to what?”

Okay. He was going to play dumb. Fine. You would deal with this.

“KISSING ME.”

Lin looked so confused. He was a very good actor. You would give him that.

“Why would they put me up to—?”

“Seriously?!”

Lin flinched.

He was really doing this? He was really going to make you spill it out? Fine. It’s not like you’d been embarrassed enough this week.

“They’ve been trying to get us together all fucking week!” A brief pause. To let the explosion settle. “I mean, did you really not notice? Why did Kate suggest adding me to the Wells Fargo Wagon sketch? Why did Cecily call in sick for Crucible Cast Party? Why did they suggest I do the promos, not Cecily? Why was there always an empty seat for me that just HAPPENED to be next to you?! They were matchmaking, it was all a fucking setup!”

“…but…why would they—?”

“Because they found out I like you!” Another explosion. “They found out, and they decided, hey, you know how the newbie’s got this HUGE crush on our host this week?! Let’s keep putting them in awkward romantic scenarios because we haven’t embarrassed her enough! We haven’t made her feel awkward ENOUGH around him We haven’t made keeping her feelings tapped down enough of a challenge for her! Even when I found out and BEGGED them to stop, they just. Fucking. Wouldn’t!” You broke away from looking at him to yell over your shoulder. “And I JUST FUCKING KNOW that they’re listening to this, that EVERYONE FUCKING IS, and I want to ask if all the fucking newbie hazing has been worth it! ARE YOU NOT FUCKING ENTERTAINED?!”

You paused, breathing hard, shaking, afraid to look back at Lin and just what his eyes read. But you did.

Confusion. Hurt. Something resembling hope that couldn’t possibly be.

“So again, I ask…” Your voice was quiet, hoarse, and quaking. “Did they put you up to it? Was it their idea for you to kiss me, and did you just go along with it? Did you willingly go along with it? Because I need to know if you were in on this, because I can’t take much more.”

Everything inside you wanted to crumble and dissolve into tears, but you would not let yourself do that in front of him.

“Why…how could you think that is something I would do?” Lin sounded slightly broken, and goddamn it. YOU were the broken one in this scenario, so how fucking dare he.

“Because what other possible reason would there be for someone like you to kiss someone like me?” You were too tired to be angry anymore, so the question came out slightly empty. Hollow. Defeated.

“Because I like you?”

It sounded more like a suggestion than a confession.

“Because I like you.”

He repeated it. Surer of himself. Maybe you’d rolled your eyes or shook your head or something, you weren’t sure, you felt sort of out of your own body at the time. And Lin looked as though he wanted to reach out and take your hand or your wrist to further prove his point…but his hands sort of hovered before retreating. As though realizing that was the last thing he would be doing.

But words was what he did best. So he kept talking.

“I couldn’t wait to meet you after seeing your impression of me and…just…you’re brilliant. I thought that from the beginning and you just surprised me more and more as the week went on and…I had no idea. Honest to god, I didn’t, about the matchmaking, I just…Cecily and I were talking one day and I was going on and on about you and just…how fascinating your mind was and how good you were in this sketch and how pretty you are and just…how much I found myself LIKING you. And the next day, she calls in sick, and I don’t think much of it because you’re in front of a camera pretending to take your sweater off and…even now, I don’t know how you can think you’re not attractive, because that was one of the hottest things and…fuck, I’m rambling and saying way too much but…god, I liked you. I LIKE you. And I had no idea you liked me, honest, I didn’t. I just knew that…there was this opportunity to kiss you, this shot, and…I was not throwing away my shot. I just…had to pretend, for a moment, that maybe you liked me, too. That maybe, for a few moments, it was real.”

Everything hung in the air, like so much dust kicked up in some frantic storm. As it settled over you.

Until finally, unwillingly, you began to laugh. You covered your mouth and face as the laughter bubbled out of you, in the wake of everything Lin had just confessed to you. Laughing so hard you began to cry.

It was only when Lin said your name that you uncovered your face. That the laughter died down. And all that was left was tears and a broken smile.

“I can’t deal with this right now.”

You turned away from Lin and began to walk away. He said your name. All you said back was “No”. Again, your name. Again, “no”. He grabbed your wrist and you turned to look at him with your “No”.

“But—”

“No, Lin, how many times, NO.”

“But I just told you—”

“I heard what you said, and I don’t believe it. This is just more hazing, and I’m not having it.”

“But I didn’t know about—”

“I DON’T FUCKING CARE!” You pulled away from Lin so violently, you almost slapped him in the face and almost tripped over your own feet. It surprised him as much as you. “You don’t get to do this to me! You can’t just stand there and say all the right words and throw in some pretty references and think that’ll make everything work out perfectly like the end of some shitty rom-com! That’s not how it works! I’ve had ENOUGH, I can’t DEAL with this, you’ve given me too much to feel!”

He tried to reach out for you again, but you stumbled away, tears blurring your vision.

“No, Lin, just stop, this hurts too much.”

Your voice was getting weaker and weaker and the tears kept coming and coming, and Lin’s pleading sounds more and more desperate, and you just want to wake up from whatever really fucking awful dream this week has been…

…Leslie’s voice was quiet in your ear as she gently escorted you to a small dark room, promising she’d be right back. You were able to stifle your sobs and hear hushed voices from the other side of the door – specifically, Lin and Leslie.

Leslie’s schtick with her comedy was being loud and often angry. But when she got genuinely angry, like REALLY genuinely angry, her voice got very low, very quiet, and very deadly. You’d only witnessed it once in the short time you’d known her, but it was genuinely terrifying.

You were only just able to make out that same venomous tone to her voice as she spoke to Lin and whoever else was on the other side of that door. Because there was no way everyone else hadn’t heard everything that had just happened. There was no way you hadn’t just embarrassed yourself in front of everyone save for Lorne. There was no way you’d ever be able to look any of these people in the eye ever again.

The voices stopped. You heard footsteps. Retreating footsteps. Then the door was opening again, and Leslie was leading you somewhere else. Saying something about staying with her tonight. Everyone else was already gone, getting ready to go out for post-show celebrations. There was no worry about seeing any of them until you were ready to see them.

“You don’t have to talk about anything to me if you don’t want to,” Leslie said. “But if you do wanna talk shit out, I won’t say a word until you’re done. I promise.” You nodded weakly. “…can I say one thing, though?” You nodded again. “Did you really throw a Daft Punk reference into your scolding?”

“…you caught that?” you said in slight disbelief.

“‘Random Access Memories’ was my shit,” Leslie said.

You laughed so hard you began to cry again. And then you were just crying. And Leslie didn’t say anymore. Just wrapped her arms around you and let you sob into her shoulder.

***

@SNLRaiser: so remember when i said @lin_manuel would kill me on @nbcsnl tonight? that was a typo. apparently, i meant “kiss”. #whatjustfreakinghappened

@SNLRaiser: cody shuck’s bedroom smells like knockoff axe body spray and broken dreams. @nbcsnl #cruciblecastparty

@SNLRaiser: that “shipoopi” joke is so cheap cheap cheap, i hate it. and by hate it, i mean love it. @nbcsnl #wellsfargowagon

@SNLRaiser: hell or glory. i don’t want anything between. @nbcsnl #strangerthings #falloutboy #shesmywinona

@SNLRaiser: “my antonia” is a book by willa cather. @nbcsnl #westsidestory [link to picture of Ranier Wolfcastle from “The Simpsons’ saying “That’s the joke”]

@SNLRaiser: for everyone asking me, lin or kate, the answer is neither. hershey’s gives me the best kisses. @nbcsnl #westsidestory

@SNLRaiser: that’s all i have to say about tonight’s episode of @nbcsnl right now. it’s been a long week. i’m sleeping until monday.

@lin_manuel All my thanks to @nbcsnl for one of the best nights of my life. You’ve almost convinced me I’m real.

@lin_manuel: Goodnight, my someone…goodnight.

***

You told Leslie everything. You talked for…it felt like hours. Going over every event, significant or otherwise. Every thought. Every interpretation. Every emotion. And still so many tears…you were baffled that you weren’t empty of tears yet.

True to her word, she did not speak a word as you recounted the week to her. You could tell she wanted to at times, from a facial expression, a twitch of her hand, a little sound. And when you were done, it took a while to convince her not to unleash holy hell on Lin or give Kate and Cecily all of the shit.

Meanwhile, your phone was blowing up. Messages from Vanessa, Melissa, Colin, Cecily, Kate… You shut your phone off before you went to sleep that night and refused to turn it back on the next day.

So they took to bugging Leslie about your well-being. The only message she relayed to you was from Colin, because it was work-related. He’d said that if you needed time away until Wednesday/readthrough day, then that was fine. No one would think any less of you for it.

“No, they’ll think less of me for a fuckton of other reasons,” was your response. Leslie tried to assure you that wouldn’t be the case.

Not 24 hours after the episode, and you had your first Buzzfeed article written about you. Well…you and Lin…and how they shipped it sooooooooooo hard now. It was one of those articles where they overanalyzed the sketches you were in with Lin to fucking death because nearly all of them involved you two being in romantic situations. And also freaking out over those kisses. Oh, it was enough for you to want to hurl things at the wall.

And some of Lin’s tweets from later in the week would not help in this regard…

***

@lin_manuel i’m outside the door, invite me in so we can go back and play pretend… @SNLRaiser [video of you and Lin singing “Alone Together” in Cody Shuck’s bedroom]

@SNLRaiser @lin_manuel no. how the fuck did you find where i live? leave now. that’s creepy as fuck.

@CodyShucksHat @SNLRaiser @lin_manuel WHY ARE YOU WEARING HIS HAT DID YOU TAKE IT AND JUST SORTA WALK AROUND DO YOU WANNA BONE HIM BUT YOU DON’T KNOW HOW

@SNLRaiser @CodyShucksHat @lin_manuel well, clearly you’ve gained sentience since i’m tweeting you. i can only assume you put yourself on my head.

***

@lin_manuel There were bells on the hill but I never heard them ringing… @SNLRaiser [picture of Lin as Harold Hill and you as Marian, taken shortly after the sketch]

@SNLRaiser @lin_manuel we’ve been over this. i’m already in a happy healthy poly relationship with the buffalo bills barbershop quartet from the film.

@SNLRaiser @lin_manuel they’re lovely companions, always giving me ice cream and hoses and baskets full of lotion.

@lin_manuel @SNLRaiser Oh no…this isn’t going where I think it’s going, is it?

@SNLRaiser @lin_manuel would you fuck them? i’d fuck them. i’d fuck them HARD.

@lin_manuel @SNLRaiser Why. Now I can never listen to “Sin in Sincere” again without thinking of Jame Gumb.

@SNLRaiser @lin_manuel good. (and jame gumb DOES put the sin in sincere. he sincerely wants to wear my skin.)

@MyFluteOrWhatever @SNLRaiser @lin_manuel I’M CRYING I’M LAUGHING SO HARD I’M GONNA DIE

@SNLRaiser @MyFluteOrWhatever @lin_manuel oh, no tears, please. it’s a waste of good suffering.

***

Deflect with humor. When in doubt, deflect with humor, if you could.

It was not easy.

***

A few days later, there was a knock at your door. You looked up from your notebook – the notebook in which you’d try to think of jokes and sketches, but mostly just stared at blank paper – and walked over to the door. Peeking through the peephole, you let out an audible gasp before you could help it.

Because on the other side of the door was Lin.

And he’d heard. Looked at the peephole. Slightly into it. Called your name softly.

You stepped back quietly on the carpet, desperately wishing you could just ignore him and he’d think you weren’t home. But…

“I understand if you don’t want to see me, but…please? Can I talk to you?”

You stepped closer to the door, hand hovering over the handle. You lowered it. Rested your head against the door.

“No one sent me here,” Lin said. “I actually begged Leslie for your address. Hate me for that, if you want but…”

He broke off with what you could barely make out as a sigh. Frustrated. Sad. Helpless.

You stood up straight, turned the deadbolt, and opened the door. Lin looked as though he was getting ready to turn around and give up and walk out of your apartment building and possibly your life (and Christ, you weren’t sure how you felt about that last thought, in spite of everything).

“Please come in,” you said, unable to look at him for too long before turning around and retreating back into your apartment. You went to the kitchen, retrieved a couple of water glasses, and filled them with water from the Brita pitcher in your refrigerator. Lin was lingering in the living room, unsure of where to sit down…or if he should even. You helped decide for him by sitting on the couch, leaving him with the chair across from the coffee table between them. As he sat down, you set the water glasses on the table, sliding one towards him.

“You wanted to talk,” you said. “So talk.” You took a sip of water.

“…I don’t really know where to start,” he said. “I don’t think I expected you to let me in.”

“I almost didn’t,” you said.

“I don’t blame you. I know you hate me.”

“…I don’t hate you. When did I say that?”

“…I just figured from…”

You set your water glass down.

“I’m mad. Mostly at Kate and Cecily. A little bit at you. But I don’t hate you. Quite the opposite, in case you forgot.”

It was less of a confession. Less sincere, more…cynical. Lin reached for his water glass and took a long drink.

“I talked to Kate and Cecily,” he said, setting his glass back on the table. “They told me everything. Confirmed that…yeah, it was all an attempt to get us closer. …Cecily was so sure it was gonna work. Especially after I told her I was starting to like you. And yes, that WAS her impetus for calling in sick and essentially forcing you into the cast party sketch. She thought that would be the end of it, that…I don’t know, everything would come to a head, we’d confess our feelings, fall into each other’s arms, roll credits. She didn’t know how badly you were dealing with it. And Kate…Kate feels even worse. That she got this ball rolling and couldn’t stop it and had to watch you hurt more and more because of Cecily and…well…me. Me kissing you.”

He looked down, taking his water glass in his hands, staring at the water that remained in it.

“She’s also afraid you hate her because she kissed you, too. In that sketch. And she didn’t tell you she was going to and that was something she really should have done and…”

He broke off with a little derisive laugh.

“I’m certainly one to talk, aren’t I?”

“Yep.”

He winced.

“Yeah…I deserve that.”

“…put yourself in my shoes for a minute,” you said quietly. “Imagine you’re in a position to work with someone whose work you’ve admired for years. And when you finally meet this person, they’re exactly as charming and lovely as they’ve always come off online and in interviews and everything. Imagine your friends-slash-coworkers KNOW you have a crush on this person. And they keep orchestrating situations that pair you up with your crush. Romantic situations. And you keep having to pretend that getting closer and closer to this person isn’t killing you inside because you KNOW it isn’t real. That they couldn’t possibly like you. And you tell your friends to stop doing this to you, and they just don’t. And then it seems like your crush gets in on this game and they kiss you. In front of literally thousands of people. And you’re just barely holding it together in front of those thousands of people because this hurts you on…such a grand scale, because you KNOW it isn’t real, and this façade is being flaunted in front of the masses.”

Lin was looking down at his hands, fidgeting with them as you colored this picture for him. You leaned in closer.

“And then, shock of all shocks, your crush tells you they like you. That they kissed you because they liked you. After a week of your friends pretty much teasing you because of your crush. After a week of those forced scenarios. After a week of just KNOWING none of it would be true.” A pause. “And there your crush is, saying everything that you’d only ever dreamed of, and it’s all perfectly crafted because they’re a fucking wordsmith and work with words and know how to bend them just so. And it’s all so fucking perfect. Too perfect.” Another pause. “Do you believe them? How can you?”

You thought you saw tears glinting in Lin’s eyes. He blinked, and they were gone.

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice slightly choked. “I didn’t know, I swear I didn’t.”

“But can you understand why I can’t believe you when you say you like me?”

“How can I convince you I’m not lying or trying to fool you?”

“Stop trying. Don’t try. It won’t help right now.”

“I just…I want to fix this. How do I fix this?”

“…I don’t know.”

There was a space where neither of you knew what to say. To fill the silence, you downed the rest of your glass of water. It was something to do to avoid just looking at him.

“I actually thought you hated me,” Lin said abruptly. “Not just…after I kissed you. Before that. Like…meeting you. Working with you. You always seemed so…reluctant to sit next to me. To be in a scene with me. To get too close. I thought it was all…just a general dislike of me. Which…I was started to like you…like, WAY more than I’d thought I would, it kind of snuck up on me, so…I figured I just didn’t have a chance. And then before the show, you hugged me, and…I don’t know, it stayed with me through the show, and I thought, maybe…so…I could try to say what I thought, I don’t know if I really was thinking, in that last sketch, I just…if this was my only chance to kiss you, then okay. …I shouldn’t try to justify why I did. But…again, I honestly had no idea you liked me so much. Or that it was all…sort of a setup for us. If I’d known, I would never have. If I could take it back, I would.”

A pause.

“I just…hate knowing that I had a hand in hurting you so much, even if I hadn’t meant to.”

You wanted to reach out for his hand but couldn’t quite bring yourself to.

“I know you didn’t,” you finally said. “Like, the rational part of me knows you wouldn’t have ever been so malicious. It’s just…the irrational part of me that spoke out. That was so convinced you had.”

“I don’t blame you for thinking that, though. Not after everything that happened.”

“…I wish I wasn’t so…” You stopped, letting out a little frustrated sound. Because wording exactly what you wanted – what you wished you were – wasn’t easy. “…I wish I could just…like you. That none of this had happened. That we just met and liked each other and that was that. That I could get past all of this and just…have believed you when you said you liked me, and we wouldn’t be here, and no one would be mad or hurt. I wish I could just get past it and just LIKE you and I CAN’T.”

“It’s okay. It’s understandable.”

“It just…feels like this is supposed to have a happy ending. That we’re supposed to have a happy ending.”

“Maybe we will. Just not now. It could be a week from now…a month from now…a year from now…but I hope we do have one.”

“…you’re good,” you laughed, shaking your head at him. “You’re very good with words…and you KNOW this. Trying to charm me into getting to that happy ending sooner?”

“I mean…can you blame me?” Lin asked.

“…I mean…I’ve never been more than ‘the funny one’ or ‘the friend’ to anyone,” you said. “No one’s ever found me worth flirting to or…sexy or…someone who should be kissed. So…even if it hadn’t all panned out this way, if Kate and Cecily hadn’t…interfered…if we’d just met and I liked you and you liked me…I’d still have a hard time believing you. And if it does pan out that way, I still probably will. Probably always will.”

“I…” Lin paused. “…what I want to say to that isn’t what you want to hear. So I won’t say those things. …I just need to know if I have a chance of…just…being in your life. Like, I want to fix this not just because I like you as something more than a friend. I want to fix this because I genuinely like you as a person and…just…want you in my life. In some way. Friend, acquaintance, occasional work colleague, whatever – whatever it is you need right now.”

“…right now…I don’t know. I honestly don’t, everything is just…this got so fucked up and…” You pressed your fingers to your eyes, pushing the tears back. “Right now, at this very moment, I need a hug. That’s just…one of the only things I’m certain of.”

“Can I…?”

You nodded, no longer trusting your voice. Lin rose from the chair and sat next to you on the couch. You turned towards him, your knees brushing against his as his arms wrapped around you. As your head settled against his shoulder, in the crook of his neck. You took a few deep breaths before your arms were around him, too.

What the near future held…you knew some things, and were uncertain of others.

You’d go into work the next day, throw yourself back into comedy. Stick close to Leslie, probably slowly warm back up to Kate and Cecily. Walk on eggshells around the rest of the cast for a while until the events of last week were conveniently forgotten.

You and Lin…maybe this hug was where it would end. Maybe he’d walk out the door and the two of you would never speak again. Maybe you’d be just Twitter acquaintances. Maybe you’d be friends and nothing more. Maybe best friends. More than best friends…

Maybe that happy ending was weeks…months…years down the road…maybe it would all be real…maybe you’d believe him the next time he said you were sexy…flirtable…that he liked you…that he maybe loved you…was in love with you…wanted to marry you…

For now…

“This feels real,” you whispered.

“This is real,” Lin whispered back.

And that, you did believe.