“He dies? I thought this was gonna be a comedy!”
These are the words that play through Leslie’s head as she carefully scales the wall of the Wyatt estate, so bursting with excitement that she’s almost humming. She’s not humming, because humming is not conducive to pulling off secret trysts successfully, but it’s a very near, near thing. She’s thinking, and not humming, because Tom was absolutely right, and this is a comedy. Comedies always end with happily ever afters and everyone getting married – the comedies Leslie writes, at any rate – and she is determined, absolutely determined, that this be one of those.
Tom hadn’t got it, though, and the image of earlier that afternoon follows his words in Leslie’s head, giving her something to mull over as she looks for her next foothold.
The mediocre at best acoustics of the Ramsett theatre had meant that Tom’s declaration almost got lost in the voices of their motley assortment of actors, positioned somewhat correctly just across the room on the rickety stage. Leslie, whose attention was already being called by five other story ideas, the fact that she had to mend her favorite pair of pants, and the clear, compelling voice of their inestimable Romeo, had to exercise a truly Herculean effort to focus her eyes back on the aggrieved Tom in front of her.
“It is a comedy! Comedy needs an emotional core to engage with people’s heartstrings, Tom!”
“A comedy, Leslie, means that bad things don’t happen!”
“Oh, come on, Mercutio isn’t even one of the main characters –”
“First of all,” Tom had said, grabbing Leslie’s shoulders and steering her further into an alcove of the set, “first of all, keep your voice down, because if Chris hears that he’s gonna go bananas –” Okay, fair, Leslie had thought – “and secondly of all, I told those tax collectors that we were gonna give ‘em laughter! Not death, Leslie! Laugh-ter.”
Leslie had, in that moment, taken a deep breath, counted to ten in her head, and thought of warm pastries. It was not exactly Tom’s fault, she had thought, that he didn’t always understand the brilliance of the creative process, and, also, he did owe the tax collectors a whole lotta money.
That being said:
“Ugh, fine, I’ll make some of the stupid script more comedic. But I’m not bringing Mercutio back to life.”
Tom had made a long extended whining noise that Leslie mostly tuned out – she was not rude, after all, and her mother taught her to never outright ignore a person she was in conversation with – but regardless, she had let her attention wander again.
The actors on the stage really were so engaging.
One actor in particular, in fact.
“– the exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine –”
“At least tell me you’re gonna have act three done by tomorrow afternoon, Les.”
“Uh huh,” Leslie had said absently, letting the delivery of the lines she wrote filter into her ears. It was really always amazing and exhilarating to hear her own words being delivered by real people, Leslie had thought, even if there were a few roadblocks to her envisioned perfect performance that they couldn’t quite overcome. Because of dumb rules. Made by dumb men.
“I gave thee – mine – before I could, um, ever request –”
“Oh dear, oh no, no no,” Chris’s voice was saying as he flitted back and forth between players. “Andy, you are doing ah-mazing. But a young woman moves with delicacy! Dignity – elegance.” He nodded, once, and stepped in in front of the younger man. “Observe!”
He took two steps, which Leslie personally hadn’t thought looked any different from steps any other human person would take, and then had looked back towards their floundering Juliet expectantly.
“Uh,” said Andy.
“It’s not like you’re a young woman either, Chris!” April called from the seats, somehow a cutting blow despite its complete lack of inflection. On the other side of the room, Ann, their beautiful amazing brilliant and ethereally talented seamstress, covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, dear,” said Chris, who was not really the director but their poor deceased Mercutio, only he had taken it upon himself to do most of the directing anyway. “April – you are completely right. Ben – Romeo. Please, do us the honour of delivering your line, again.”
Ben cleared his throat, which probably shouldn’t have made Leslie’s last vestiges of attention slip completely away from where Tom was explaining his complex competition with the Sapperstein theater house across the street. But boy, did it.
Even with his fake mustache disguise, Leslie had thought, Ben’s face really was very cute. The cutest face in all the land.
“Oh, blessed blessed night, I am afeared –”
And a very nice voice, like it was made to read the lines that she, Leslie, wrote. As in fatedly made. As in, destined to read her writing. Leslie had watched him move under the balcony, the awning of which still hadn’t been rebuilt to accommodate Andy’s height, and remembered, in detail, what it felt like to kiss him.
Ben’s cute face was very good at kissing.
Andy was talking again now, a heroic attempt at a more girlish voice, a big grin on his face despite Chris’s earlier criticism. Stupid rules about who could and couldn’t be an actor aside, Leslie thinks, she’s not sure where this production would be without Andy’s boundless enthusiasm.
“– I, uh, gave thee mine –”
“That,” said Chris, “is another amazing attempt. But –”
“Oh my God,” April had said, dropping her cue bell with musical clang and an exaggerated eye roll and elbowing her way onto the stage, “look, honey, I’ll just show you –”
“Guys, am I supposed to come out yet?”
“Go back behind the stage and be the stupid nurse!”
Leslie, of course, had been watching Ben again. He had looked more amused than anything, oddly content to be playing in this chaotic production despite the fact that he could be doing anything else in the world with his noble time. He wanted to be there, Leslie had thought, because he loved what she wrote, because he loved her – because they were meant to meet and she thinks he’s the best actor in the universe and he thinks she’s the best writer, and –
“Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?”
“Hm – OH, yes, yes, hello, hi Tom, yes, I have been listening. Sorry. Sorry.”
“Will we have act three by tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Leslie had said, bouncing once to show how very honest she was. “Yes. We will have act three by tomorrow. Tom.”
“Thank you! Lord, was that so hard –”
Focus, Leslie, she had thought, focus.
On stage, Ben started reciting his lines again, and Leslie had taken a deep breath.
Tonight, she’d thought. Tonight, she could be as distracted as she wanted to be. Right then, though, she needed to go write.
Tonight is here, now, and Leslie is almost all the way up the wall, supremely glad that she once managed to convince Ann to sew her a solid pair of trousers. A dress would be stupidly hard to scale walls with, Leslie thinks, though maybe occasionally aesthetically pleasing. Pants are far easier to do things in, including but not limited to scaling walls and writing plays. Which she can do again! Her momentary, terrifying absence of any sort of inspiration has been solved, because Ben gets it, he understands, and even though Ann is her best friend in the world and the most amazing human creature ever made and a super awesome muse and emotional cheerleader, Leslie appreciates someone who understands like Ben does.
And also someone who has a cute kissable face, like Ben does.
She’s made it to the top, by now, and hoists herself as gracefully as she can manage over the balcony, stumbling a little over the stones and practically vibrating with excitement. She’s going to see Ben, and get to make out with him on his face without the silly mustache disguise he wears to come and be an actor instead of a young wealthy nobleman like he really is, and it’s gonna be the most amazing night ever, just like every other night this week has been.
Leslie pushes through the curtain and thinks only of wrapping herself around the skinny back that's facing her, surprising him into laughter, and –
“Heyyy-lo, Ron, Ronald, Ben’s nurse who is standing here in this room.”
If Leslie looks over, she knows she’d see Ben grimacing. Ron stares at Leslie, and Leslie stares at Ron.
“I am not,” says Ron, “his nurse. I am a member of his staff who happens to occasionally not mind his presence.”
“Right,” says Leslie, “yes. Right. Hello, staff member who doesn’t completely hate Ben. Good evening.” Beside her, Ben makes a funny, barely-audible noise of distress. Leslie wishes that Ann had sewn wings into her amazing pants, so that she could fly right back out of that window with Ben in her arms and pretend none of this ever happened.
“Ron thinks,” says Ben, in a funny voice that reflects the sentiment of the funny distressed noise, “that we’ve been sleeping together.”
That’s funny, Leslie thinks. Her brain has suddenly been filled by a loud buzzing noise.
“Ooooh,” says Leslie, “oh. Oh. Nnooo – nnnn – I mean, whaaaat, no, we are not. We don’t. There’s nothing – to sleep about. Here. We’re merely – we and I – he and I –”
“Then why are you in his room?” asks Ron, not a single strand of his mustache twitching.
Leslie swallows. Bird pants. She’s going to ask Ann if that’s possible tomorrow.
“Play,” Leslie blurts out. “The, um, script. I was here to give him his script. For. Tomorrow.”
Ron says nothing.
“Yes,” says Ben, a worthy defense of Leslie’s true and believable claim.
“I could hear you through the door last night,” says Ron. “I kept hearing something about –” he grimaces – “Queen Elizabeth.”
Ah. Oh. Hm. Yes, thinks Leslie.
“Right,” says Ben out loud, and looks as though he, too, would appreciate some flying pants. They really are on exactly the same wavelength, Leslie thinks.
“Well, we’re not –”
“Usually, I could not care less what they hell the crazy people in this building do,” says Ron, “but you two are terrible at keeping a secret.”
“We’re being secretive,” says Ben, a defensive note in his voice, “we –”
“You could be disowned,” growls Ron. “Ms. Knope over here could be arrested! The fact of the matter, Ben, is that you are engaged to the Duchess of Wessex.”
Leslie thinks again, about what Tom said, about bad things not happening in comedies. That feels so long ago, like a whole other century ago of time has gone by since only the afternoon. Mercutio’s untimely death seems like absolutely nothing compared to this, compared to how Leslie feels right now, using every last ounce of her energy to not let her chest deflate.
They've been found out. By Ben's not-nurse, who is really a very good and wholesome person, Leslie knows, but that buzzing noise is fading from between her ears and is being replaced by something that feels a little bit like dread. Which is very melodramatic, but she supposes she is a playwrite, after all.
She wishes she could reach over and grab Ben’s hand. And then she does. Reach out and grab Ben’s hand, that is.
Ron’s mustache, finally, bristles a little.
Finally, finally, he says,
"Be careful," low and jerky like someone's pulling his teeth. Leslie's had teeth pulled before, and it is not fun at all.
Just like it will be not fun at all if they're caught by anyone who isn't Ben's not-nurse, Leslie knows, but -- they won't be. Caught, that is.
Because Tom is wrong, Leslie is sure, about bad things not happening in comedies. She’s sure that bad things happen in comedies all the time, because that’s what makes the payoff at the end so much better. Bad things must happen in comedies, because this is a very bad thing, and Leslie –
Leslie absolutely refuses, hand held warm and tight in Ben Wyatt's, to think that this will end in anything other than a happily ever after.