Today hadn't gotten off to a good start.
Well, that's not exactly true. It had started off fine, with Gale winning the Stanley Cup but then his phone rang, waking him up and popping his dream like a bubble. He knocked his lamp on his head, nearly fell out of bed and when he finally managed to untangle himself from his sheets and answer, he was greeted by an antagonistic Katniss shouting at him to get up and come to the amusement park, now! He was still half-asleep, his head hurt and he was very appalled to learn it was only 7:06 am on a Saturday.
And then it got worse.
He got to Katniss' at 7:41 and she'd slammed the car door and given him a dirty look for "being late", even though he'd gotten there as fast as he could. He was now cranky and confused, Katniss fiddling with the radio like she always did when she was tense. A little probing later and it turned out she was meeting Peeta at the park, for what might be a date or might not, she wasn't entirely sure. It was with a sense of dread that he realised he'd been woken up at seven in the morning just to be a third wheel.
"I can't do this alone. I've never been on a date Gale, I'm not even sure this is a date. I need backup," Katniss had insisted, all desperate and worried, so of course he'd said okay, on the condition she bought him many a funnel cake.
Make that a shit ton of funnel cake, because it was the absolute crack of dawn on a Saturday and yet, somehow, there was still traffic and after forty minutes trapped in his too hot car, his skin melting off from the sun beating through the window and Katniss futzing with the radio, he was about ready to commit murder. But then he saw the stupid sign for Snowland (which, being in Virginia, had probably never even seen snow) and breathed a sigh of relief.
Which was very short lived.
There was a line up just to get in the parking lot, one that they ended up stuck in for twenty four freaking minutes and Katniss just groused that this is why she wanted to get here early. Gale leaned his head on the steering wheel, complained a lot and Katniss just turned up the volume on the radio to drown him out.
When they finally rolled up to the booth at the entrance, Gale nearly backed the hell out of there, because thirty dollars for parking, are you fucking kidding? He nearly got in a fight with the very rude attendant, some nasty girl named Johanna who actually threw the parking pass at his head and didn't even bother to offer a faux 'have a nice day!'.
(he did, on the other hand, get a little satisfaction in the fact that Katniss paid that thirty dollars in ones and fives)
The parking lot was like the lovechild of a warzone and a zoo, cars everywhere, zigging and zagging all over, people darting and dashing and sometimes slowly meandering through traffic and an endless chain of honking that made his ears ring. Katniss decided to take a nap, wake me up when you find a spot and he'd have told her he hated her except some guy in a Subaru was honking like a lunatic behind him and making rude hand gestures.
It took twenty six frustrating minutes to find a spot and then another twelve to hike all the way to the entrance, Gale's patience long abandoned. Katniss, thankfully, had printed tickets in the morning (he's a little horrified to think about what time she must've woken up at), so they only had to wait in one long ass line, instead of two, to get in and that's when he discovered Peeta had brought a friend. Katniss wouldn't look him in the eye as she told him, Gale groaned and he could only hope Peeta's friend made a better fourth wheel than the angry, ranty guy he'd had to hang out with last time Thom dragged him along on one of his dates.
Katniss started to panic when they got inside and noticed Peeta, her nails digging deep into Gale's arm. Peeta saw them too and waved exuberantly, was so excited when he came running over that he nearly tripped over a stroller. Gale looked around for 'friend', Peeta began enthusiastically greeting Katniss (who thankfully let go of Gale's arm) and Madge Undersee squeezed out of the crowd.
Which brings us to now.
"I didn't realize this was a double date," Madge says a little awkwardly as Peeta and Katniss start heading off. Gale shakes his head.
"It isn't," he insists and Madge turns to look at him with raised eyebrow as they follow after. "We're just...third and fourth wheeling."
Madge stares at him and he hopes he didn't offend her, because it isn't like he'd be opposed to being on a date with Madge, kinda the opposite actually...
"Right," she says and yeah, he's probably pissed her off.
This day just keeps getting better.
"Well, I better be third wheel," she comments and he looks over at her in surprise. She's grinning and his worry disappears, his lips tugging up in the corner.
"Pfft, please, you're fourth. I'm definitely the third wheel."
Madge shrugs, fights down a smile.
"Well, in that case, I'll have a large Dippin' Dots."
"Excuse me?" he asks and she can't keep down her smirk any longer.
"Third wheels always pay. It's the rules."
"Oh really?" he asks with a laugh and she nods.
"Yep," she says, popping the 'p' and Gale grins.
"Well, I'd hate to break the rules," he replies and okay, so today had started off pretty shitty, but finally, things were looking up.
If he had to be third wheel, well, Madge made a pretty great fourth wheel.
Even though the sun keeps getting hotter and hotter, tourists in lurid outfits keep jostling him and there are way too many line ups in this place, Gale was right, the morning is definitely looking up.
Katniss starts to relax, even laughs at a not-at-all-funny joke of Peeta's and Gale starts to realize he should definitely hang out with Madge more often. He's known her for ages, always thought her good looking but they rarely spend one on one time together, always hang out in groups.
This is the first time they've really spent time together and though they have the complete opposite taste in rides (she loves the spinny ones that make him sick and is terrified of the roller coasters he lives for), she's pleasantly warm when they sit beside each other, makes him laugh with a sense of humour just like his and her eyes always find his when Peeta and Katniss do something schmoopy and cute, shares a knowing look.
And maybe, he's regretting saying this wasn't a date.
"I think we've lost them," Madge says sometime after lunch, emerging from behind the ridiculously humongous map she'd brought.
"Katniss and Peeta, they're gone," she explains, biting her lip.
"Finally," he says with a shake of his head, "I'd thought they'd never ditch us."
"What?" Madge asks, looks at him like he's lost his mind.
"This is a date, they shouldn't want to spend it with us."
Madge opens her mouth to protest, but then thinks about it for a moment, eventually nodding slowly. "I guess you're right."
Gale nods, thinks about maybe asking her to reconsider this whole "not a date" thing but her eyes drift to the right and then go wide, an animated smile lighting her face.
"Ooo, I love the swing ride, come on!" she nearly squeals, latches onto his arm and drags him after her. Gale looks up at the swing ride as it spins through the air and feels his stomach clench.
He doesn't get sick on the swing ride and even though it was awful, he thinks it was definitely worth it for Madge's bright eyed smile and bubbly laughter.
That didn't mean he was above payback though.
"No, no, I can't," Madge mumbles in horror as she cranes her neck to look at the Goliath, the largest roller coaster in the country.
"Come on, Undersee, don't be a chicken," he says with a grin, nudging her with his elbow.
"I just...there's no way," she whispers, eyes as wide as plates. He stops grinning and squeezes her shoulder.
"It'll be fine, promise."
Madge doesn't answer, chews on her lip and Gale is just about to tell her it's okay, they'll go on something else when she inhales deeply and squares her shoulders.
"Okay. Let's go before I change my mind."
Gale blinks at her in surprise. "You sure?"
Madge nods, fills her voice with bravado. "Yeah, it's just a ride, right?"
Gale takes her hand.
"This was a terrible idea," Madge whispers once the ride attendant locks in their safety bar.
"You wanna get off?" he asks, Madge's body glued up against his.
"Yes," she says immediately but then shakes her head, "No, no, I can do this."
"You'll be okay," he promises, rests his hand over one of hers as she clutches the safety bar so tight her knuckles turn white. She nods and licks her lips.
"Yeah," she agrees a little shakily and pushes herself somehow even closer to him. He wants to say something else but the ride kicks into motion, both of them lurching in their seats. Madge leans her face into his shoulder and he squeezes her hand.
you'll be okay
"Holy shit, that was insane," Gale says in awe as they leave the ride, Madge pale and shaky.
"I think I died," she whispers and Gale slings an arm over her shoulders.
"You were awesome," he tells her and means it, her cheeks darkening.
"I...no, I wasn't. I screamed like a banshee," she insists, won't meet his eyes. She isn't kidding either, he's pretty sure he's deaf in one ear.
"True," he agrees, "but you still did it." She shrugs and Gale grins, leans in a bit closer. "And if we're being honest, I'm pretty sure I screamed a bit too."
A laugh bubbles out of her and Gale smiles a little wider.
"You definitely did," she teases but her arm goes around his waist, squeezes his hip and he knows what she's really saying is thank you.
"Oh, shut up," he replies, squeezing her shoulders and what he's saying is anytime.
They stop at the picture booth and Madge covers her face in her hands.
"Oh God, that is so embarrassing," she mumbles and Gale laughs as he examines their photo. Madge has her eyes closed but is clearly screaming at the top of her lungs, arms wrapped around him. Gale is holding her back, face screwed up unattractively and he pulls out his wallet.
"What're you doing?" Madge asks, eyes his wallet warily.
"Buying our picture."
"Don't you want proof you braved the Goliath?"
Madge frowns and he laughs again.
"It's awful, we look terrible," she insists and he nods, because they really do.
"I think it makes a nice keepsake," he counters and then comes up with an idea.
"And, to reward you for your bravery, how about I win you a prize?" he asks, gesturing at the long line of booths to their right. Madge narrows her eyes and then nods, taking his elbow.
"Make it two prizes and we'll be even."
"You got it."
"That's adorable," Madge coos, pointing to some cat stuffy in a tiara. He raises an eyebrow but shrugs and heads over to the booth, tries not to wince at how much money they want. He settles down on a stool, Madge hovering behind him and he's in luck, it's one of the games he's best at. It's the one where you shoot a water gun at a target to fill up a tube with water and Gale kicks ass at this, has won his siblings mountains of stuffed animals at the local fair.
"I got this is in the bag," he says confidently and Madge squeezes his shoulders.
"I'm sure," she whispers in his ear, makes shivers tingle down his back.
"On your marks, get ready, go!" the pimply teenager in charge shouts and Gale fires immediately, is ages ahead of the middle aged woman beside him. The guy on his other side keeps missing his target and Gale smirks.
piece of cake
The bell rings, Gale's tube flashing in announcement of his victory.
"You did it!" Madge cheers, hugging him from behind. He feels his skin heat up as the pimply attendant heads over to him.
"Congrats, man! And what prize would you like?"
"The cat," Gale replies, ignores the loser next to him snickering. Gale hands it to Madge, her whole face lit up.
"I've never gotten a prize before," she murmurs and Gale frowns.
"Well, then I'm definitely winning you another one, come on." He grabs her hand and she hugs her cat with a smile, one that makes his stomach feel like it's somersaulting. She threads her fingers through his.
He doesn't answer, but that might be because he can't, his tongue feeling useless in his mouth. He squeezes her hand instead and by the way she squeezes back, he knows she understands.
He wins her a giant unicorn at the ball toss and Madge wraps herself around his arm and squeezes.
"You're amazing," she breathes and he smiles without thinking about it, skin prickling in a not-so-unpleasant way.
"Wanna ride the pirate ship?" she asks and he nods, think he'd probably ride anything she wanted. Madge tugs him along and all he can think is thanks Katniss, i owe you one.
The day passes a little too quickly, ride after ride, Madge's hand in his.
When he woke up this morning, Gale would've said he couldn't wait for today to be over.
Now though, all he wants is for it to never end.
They're sharing a funnel cake at a table by the entrance when he spots their wayward friends over Madge's shoulder. They're walking side by side, practically pressed together and he grins.
"Well, look who it is," he says and Madge turns around quickly.
"Oh, hey guys!" she calls, Katniss turning pink. Peeta smiles in greeting and Gale can't quite hold back his smirk.
"Had a good time?" he asks when they reach their table and Peeta nods enthusiastically.
"Yeah, it was awesome! You?"
Gale nods, eyes on Katniss as she shuffles her feet.
"Totally, we should definitely come back!" Madge insists, Peeta agreeing whole heartedly.
Gale stands, licking crumbs off his fingers and knows he and Katniss are going to have a lot to talk about on the ride home. Madge checks her watch.
"We should probably get going," she says and Peeta wilts in disappointment.
"I guess you're right."
The four of them start walking, Peeta and Katniss moving together, fingertips just brushing and Madge grabs Gale's arm, meets his eyes with a grin.
"Where are you guys parked?" Peeta asks and Gale groans just thinking of it.
"Canada," he grumbles in annoyance and Madge laughs.
"Really? I parked right by the entrance."
Gale glares at her. "I hate you."
Madge laughs again, squeezes his arm and Gale can't help but grin back. They make it to Madge's powder blue VW Bug and Gale rolls his eyes. Madge bumps his hip with hers.
"Don't make fun of my car."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he promises and she tugs him aside, probably to give Katniss and Peeta a bit of privacy.
"So, gunna try out a few more roller coasters next time?" he teases and she answers immediately, eyes dancing.
"Only if you ride them with me."
He feels a warm kind of surprise in his blood and grins, wider than he has all day.
"That could probably be arranged."
"Great," she says with a smile, starts walking back to her car. "Oh, and Gale?" she calls, turning back to him.
She's leaning against her open door, eyes bright, smile playful and Gale feels his stomach clench in entirely different ways than it did on the swing ride.
"No wheels next time, okay?"
Katniss is standing beside him, looking confused but Gale just laughs, heat flooding his chest.
So yeah, today?
Definitely a good idea.