In a topsy-turvy world, where she had to share Susie with fucking Sophie Lennon and her parents both (both!) managed to lose their apartment to Columbia and pride and her brother had grown a beard like he had personally been lost in the desert during Exodus, it was a relief beyond compare to know she could still make a transcendent brisket. She didn’t use the word transcendent lightly, having suffered through Professor Caspar’s lectures series on Emerson and his fucking transparent eyeball until she almost wanted to major in geology just to be able to have a series of missiles to chuck at Theron Caspar’s tweed jacket; the brisket truly was that good. It was one recipe her mother actually admitted Midge made better and the first time she’d made it in their first apartment, the one bedroom with the bathtub that never drained properly, Joel had taken a bite and then hustled her off to the one bedroom to show his appreciation. The kitchen floor had been clean enough, but she’d enjoyed being picked up and tossed on the double bed with its freshly laundered linen sheets. My compliments to the chef he’d muttered against her throat, knowing she wouldn’t like it muttered against her breast or, far worse, the soft skin of her ungirdled belly. Ethan owed his existence to that fucking brisket.
She hadn’t lost her touch, even if the oven had given up the ghost as if it knew a Nobel laureate was soon going to be shoving in tuna casserole instead of her mother instructing Zelda on how to make brie en croute as if Zelda didn’t know already. The roast was rich, savory, tender, the balance of the spices exquisite, the silkiness of the fat basically obscene. She could use it in her act if she stayed in the City; it wouldn’t play in Philly and Jersey, fucking Jersey… She didn’t know if it would work in Vegas, so she just took another bite. Joel did too, but what the hell was his excuse?
“I’m nervous,” she admitted, after she’d eaten her forkful and so had Joel, picking at what was left after they’d been picking all night on the gougeres and the crudité and the green beans with their slivered almonds.
“You’re gonna be great,” he said, standing up to go. He had the kids and Esther had already tried to run away once and how could Midge blame her? Her daughter was asleep and wouldn’t remember how her mother had left her to go on tour with Shy Baldwin even if her brother did and begrudged her; Ethan had that look about him, more like her father and brother than Joel. He’d probably like trigonometry. She looked up at Joel and his tie was loose, his collar unbuttoned. He’d done it without thinking, the way he always did and was there anyone else in the world who knew that he never remembered doing it? It was too late to say that, too late to say anything after Benjamin and Penny and the nights when she’d woken up reaching for Joel, with her next joke on her lips.
“I don’t—” she murmured, cut off by his lips. Not on her cheek, on her fucking temple, the way he might have kissed her given that they were about to be divorced and become Ethan and Esther’s parents and nothing else. No, Joel had to kiss her, like he meant it. Like he was beyond convincing her, like it meant the sky was blue and the sun rose in the east.
His mouth was soft and hot; he’d always been very, very good at this. He’d gotten better. She chose, briefly, not to think about how, because it was a crapshoot about whether it was longing for her vs. Penny Pann being the fucking Harvard Dean of kissing. No matter what, Penny wasn’t getting credit for the way Joel slipped his hand against her face to cup her cheek, to stroke the nape of her neck beneath her hair. She tasted him, nothing else, this kiss every kiss they’d had and none of them—there was failure in it, failure he knew and loved her despite, his own, theirs, impatience and terror and hunger he couldn’t satisfy. He kept touching her, his hands, plural, on her neck, sliding down her sides to her waist. How was she still sitting on a chair in her mother’s kitchen with the remnants of a brisket in front of her? How was she supposed to get on a plane to Vegas and go make people laugh when she was only not moaning because she would never be able to look at Zelda again? That and because he’d swallow every sound she made.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said, a little raspy, like she was whiskey and he’d drunk her down to the dregs. She thought he’d say Don’t go and then she could be annoyed and maybe righteously offended that he was trying to hold her back, but he hadn’t. He didn’t. He rested his forehead against hers, the hand that had been at her waist finding hers and taking it.
“I didn’t think I’d feel like this,” she said, not bothering to explain. He’d understand, enough anyway. He laughed, a low sound, it was bitter and dirty and familiar, loving; if he’d laughed like this a year ago, where would they be?
“I say that to myself every day, Midge. Every fucking day. Do me a favor—go find out if it changes,” he said.
“When you make it happen, what you really wanted—if you feel the way you think you will,” he said.
“I wanted you,” she said. Was she arguing or confessing?
“You wanted happiness. That wasn’t me,” he said.
“You’re wrong,” she said.
“Okay, I’m wrong. And you’re still getting on a plane and going to be Mrs. Maisel for everyone but me,” he said.
“It’s all right,” he said, kissing her again, almost chastely, until he sucked on her lower lip, licked it, bit down very gently like she was delicious. “I get it now.”
“I don’t,” she said, reaching up to touch the lock of hair that always fell across his forehead when they made love. He didn’t shrug, at least there was that.