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you terrible thing, you beautiful thing

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            Lenny almost kissed Midge that first night, as he tucked a joint in the pocket of her purse and sent her off in a cab.

            He almost kissed her because his life had not been the same since he met her in a cop car and she bailed him out at the police station.

            He almost kissed her because they had a rapport and because she was fucking funny, even if the shit that came out of her mouth wasn’t as honed as it needed to be for her to be a true success.

            He almost kissed her because that night, they drank and smoked and chatted with the Village Vanguard trio and it was one of the best nights that he’d had in a long, long time.

            But he’d heard enough from her about infidelity, and knowing what he knew about her…

            It didn’t matter that her husband was gone, or that his wife was little more than a legal term, at this point. Lenny saw, in the shadow of his mind, the horrified face of a woman who would not kiss another man even while she was separated, would not kiss a separated man, not after being cheated on.

            He had enough presence of mind to determine that he would never see that face in person.

            So he did not come on to her. He joked about it, and he heard her laugh as her cab drove away, but he did not come on to her.

            He wondered what people would say if they knew that the great Lenny Bruce didn’t kiss a woman because he was trying not to offend.

 

*

 

            It sounded, for a brief flash, as though Midge and the husband had reconciled.

            Lenny learned that they had not through her set, sitting in the back of a wretched New Jersey club without Midge’s knowledge.

            He’d meant to surprise her at her first gig after their publicity stunt, but with that news… she’d surprised him.

            He tried to ignore the fact that his stomach twisted more than he’d been expecting as he slid into the seat across from her after her set.

            “You did good.”

            She smiled graciously. “Susie’s my manager, she’s the only one who has to lie to me.”

            “No lies about it, Midge. You did good. There’s a reason I stuck my neck out for you, and it’s sets like that.”

            Her eyes glimmered.

            They must have sat at that table ‘til nearly closing time, knocking back drinks with the best of them until she said, “Would you walk me out to a cab?”

            Lenny was on his feet at once.

            They got out onto that street and Lenny made to hail a cab immediately, but Midge was loitering in the doorway, so he hung back.

            Midge looked up at Lenny, and Lenny had been around enough drunk women in his life to recognize that look anywhere—she was about to talk about her feelings.

            “That was my first set as Mrs. Maisel without you to draw an audience in.”

            Oh. Not quite what he was expecting.

            And then he surprised himself. “How did it feel?”

            “Exquisite. Susie’s gonna shit when she hears how that joke about my dad and my father-in-law killed, she wasn’t sure it should go in.”

            Before Lenny could reply, Midge’s gaze grew distant, until she added, “Ex. Ex-father-in-law.”

            “Right, ex,” he agreed, for lack of anything better to say.

            Midge still was not moving from that doorway.

            Then she was moving, but it was only to lean in toward Lenny and kiss him, slowly and nonchalant.

            There was no expectation behind the kiss, but as Lenny pushed her away – gently, slowly – he felt as though he’d failed her. He failed her because their worlds were blurry and she was at an unfamiliar club in Jersey and she deserved someone who would stop her before she kissed them like that, even though he wasn’t sure whether she would be happy he did.

            “We’re drunk,” he told her, like she hadn’t noticed.

            She laughed. “We really, really are.”

            Midge did not kiss Lenny again that night, but he took the cab with her all the way to Upper Manhattan so that she wouldn’t have to pay cab fare from Jersey all alone.

 

*

 

            Months passed. Lenny was busy, and, when he ran into Midge, it was rarely for more than five or ten minutes in the middle of a crowded and smoky comedy club.

            Lenny found her outside the back door of one of those clubs, smoking another joint he’d given her.

            Her set that night was mediocre, partially because she was still working out some kinks in the material and partially because the crowd was resisting her. She slouched a bit against that filthy wall as she inhaled, long and slow, and Lenny knew that she was taking all the credit for the lack of laughs.

            “Mrs. Maisel,” he said as a way of announcing his presence.

            She jolted at his voice, but she didn’t look toward him. Instead, she visibly sighed as she looked up toward the sky. “Not anymore.”

            “Hmm?”

            Lenny reached Midge and she held out the joint for him. “I signed the papers yesterday. I am no longer Mrs. Maisel.”

            “Oh.”

            “Oh,” she agreed.

            Silence hung between them as he took a hit.

            “Most… of my friends who’ve gotten divorced… it’s a ‘congratulations’ sort of thing,” he told her slowly, returning the joint. “I imagine it’s a bit more complicated for you.”

            She sighed. “It is. You’re welcome to say congratulations, though. Maybe it’ll make it feel more like a good thing. Less on par with that set I just did.”

            “You really were mediocre tonight,” Lenny told her with a chuckle.

            Midge inhaled and held her breath for a long, long time before letting it go. She watched the smoke drift up as she giggled and nodded. “I really, really was.”

            “Mediocre happens,” he offered, quietly. It occurred to him that he wasn’t quite sure whether he was trying to console her for the set or the divorce. Fuck it, though—she could work that out if she wanted to.

            “It does,” she murmured.

            The joint was almost gone when she said, “You should come on to me tonight.”

            “What?”

            “You heard me.”

            Lenny clenched his jaw and looked straight ahead, trying to work out what he should say. Hell, trying to work out what he wanted to say.

            Midge, it seemed, was not in a hurry. She took a few more hits in silence, turned the joint over to Lenny to take the last hit. Thank God. He fucking needed it, with this freshly-divorced, uptown force of nature telling him to come on to her like she was telling him about the day’s headlines.

            He discarded the roach and stepped on it, not because it was still burning but because it was something to do.

            “Let me give you a kiss,” he said, finally. “For better luck next time.”

            And he truly did not intend to kiss her very hard, or very long, but almost as soon as his lips were on hers, she grabbed hold of his coat lapels and pulled him closer.

            Her mouth was warm and sweet and tangy and, in that moment, he felt like he could die, just like that. Just kissing Midge fucking Maisel.

            Midge fucking Something. He supposed he didn’t know her last name anymore.

            She allowed her hands to stray, wandering inside his coat and trailing down his sides, to his hips, where they lingered for an eon. Lenny couldn’t get himself to do the same—one of his hands was settled on her waist outside her coat, the other braced against the wall behind her head.

            Her hands didn’t drift any further, but that didn’t matter. He eventually felt warm and a little desperate and this freshly-divorced, uptown force of nature didn’t deserve to get fucked against the dirty wall of a comedy club.

            So he pulled away and said, quietly, “I am rescinding my come-on.”

            Midge’s lips were swollen from kissing him and her lipstick was smeared, probably all over his mouth, and it was almost enough for him to take back that rescindment.

            “Alright.” She took a step away from the wall and adjusted her hair. “Let’s get a drink.”

            Yes. That, he would definitely do.