“You’re too picky,” her mother used to say when Madge refused to get dressed until she was certain her hair ribbon matched her dress perfectly.
“You’re too picky,” her father would tell her every time he took her out for dinner and she spent twenty minutes choosing what to eat.
“You’re too picky” her date said when she refused to do anything with him in the seedy motel room he’d rented after their senior prom.
“You’re too picky,” her friends would tell her when she dumped a guy because he kept using there instead of their.
Madge didn’t think she was picky. She had high standards, sure, but what was wrong with that? Was it too much to want to look well? To enjoy her food? To expect decent hygiene? To date a guy who knew the difference between they’re, their and there?
Yet as the echo of the midnight bells faded, Madge felt that maybe she should have given their there a chance. Anything was better that sipping a warm beer by herself and trying not to sulk as all her friends shoved their tongues down the throats of boyfriends, casual dates or random strangers.
So for the New Year, Madge resolved to try and be a little less picky when it came to guys.
Her friends were dubious about her claims, but when Madge insisted she meant it, Katniss passed her a number. “It’s my friend Gale. I think you guys would be good together, but I knew you wouldn’t have given him a chance before.”
“Why? What’s wrong with him?”
Katniss frowned. “Nothing. He’s a great guy. But you’re so picky, you would have found something you didn’t like before you gave him a proper chance. You’ll really like him.”
With some trepidation, Madge sent him a text message. <Hi, I’m Madge, Katniss’ friend. She gave me your number.>
Her phone chimed a couple of minutes later. <Hi Madge. I’ve heard a lot about you.>
They exchanged a few messages over the next few days. She was pleased to see that he texted in full words, and didn’t do stupid things like abbreviate you to ‘u’, a habit that Madge still maintained was an absolutely valid reason to dump a guy. He also proved to have a flawless grasp of the differences between they’re, their and there.
On the downside, he wasn’t studying at Panem University like Madge and Katniss, instead he was across town at the Panem Institute of Technology, more affectionately known as the Nerd Pit by PU students. While Madge knew it was wrong to generalize, every single PIT student she’d ever met had been a huge nerd.
Madge had nothing against nerds. She had some nerdish qualities of her own. After all, she enjoyed a good debate about the finer points of Austen, she had a pretty extensive knowledge of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and liked to play movie scores on the piano. In fact, her ideal guy would probably be on the nerdy side; she wanted somebody smart and interesting.
But the more she learned about Gale, the more convinced she became that she was texting one of the guys from The Big Bang Theory, and she hated those guys. He was studying for a masters in engineering. He had a full ride scholarship. He spent every weekend at home in his Ma’s house. He traveled home by train because 'trains are cool’. He loved The Lord of the Rings, which was far, far nerdier than Star Wars. He even admitted to spending one weekend making a Captain American costume. It was for his little brother, but still.
If it wasn’t for Katniss regularly asking if she’d dumped Gale yet, Madge would probably have stopped texting him long before the Captain American revelation. It was because of her determination to prove Katniss that Madge kept texting him.
To her surprise, she was glad she did. Gale was funny, smart and interesting. They shared a lot of the same opinions about things and always had lively discussions when they didn’t. He introduced her to books and movies she’d never heard of and really enjoyed.
(Dear God, was she a nerd?)
And then Gale text to say that he was staying in town for the weekend to work on an assignment. <Do you want to meet up?>
Truthfully, Madge had been relieved that their busy schedules had prevented them from meeting so far. She enjoyed texting Gale. They had a wonderful textual relationship. She was worried that if they met, and there was zero attraction between as Madge expected, then that would probably be the end of their texting and she was sad at the thought of losing that. She would have made an excuse to avoid meeting him, or at least to prolong the inevitable, but Katniss mentioned that Gale was looking forward to meeting her, and Madge knew there was no way out of it.
So she text him back and they agreed to meet at a pizza place in town. <How will I know what you look like?> she asked.
<You’ll know me. I’m pretty much the male version of Katniss.> he replied and her heart sank. Katniss was a very pretty girl, but she barely cleared five foot, and Madge was just a little under five ten. Of all her nitpicks and deal breakers and no-nos, height was top of the list. She knew it was shallow and dumb, but short guys were such a turn off for her. She already felt like a giraffe around her friends like Katniss and Johanna, was it so wrong to want a guy that was taller than her?
So reluctantly, Madge made her way to the restaurant, certain that this was another romance doomed to end in failure. She just prayed she could find a way to remain friends with Gale, because for the first time, she’d met a guy she really did want to be friends with.
She arrived earlier than expected at the restaurant, there was no male Katniss lookalike nerds there yet so she took a seat at the bar and waited. There was a guy sitting a few stools down from her, and he smiled when she sat down. He had stormy grey eyes, thick dark hair and a chiseled jaw. When he unfolded himself from the stool to move closer to her, she realized that he was well over six foot. Madge felt herself blush and cursed her luck. Of course she’d meet an Adonis while she was waiting to meet Howard Wolowitz.
“Hi there,” he said. She shivered at the sound of his voice. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Before she could answer, the door of the restaurant opened and a guy walked in. He was medium height, kind of cute, dark hair like Katniss, horn-rimmed glasses. He looked around, but didn’t seem to recognize her. Madge knew she could pretend not to see him and accept tall, dark and handsome’s offer. But she realized she didn’t want to. She wanted to sit with Gale, she wanted to talk to him, she wanted to see if he was as funny and smart in person as he was in text. When his eyes finally met hers, Madge felt a thrill of excitement run through her.
She smiled at the Adonis. “Thanks, but my date just walked in.” She took a deep breath and approached Gale who was still standing at the door. “Gale, hi. It’s nice to meet you.”
Gale blinked at her. “Huh?”
“I’m Madge,” she said, with a bright smile and holding out her hand for him to shake.
He frowned. “Um, actually I’m OK thanks. My friends are over there.” He ducked around her and hurried over to where a group of guys were sharing some garlic bread.
Madge frowned in confusion before she felt a tap on her shoulder. She spun around to find the hottie from the bar.
He grinned at her. “Hi Madge, I’m Gale.”
“No, you’re not.”
Gale, the real Gale, laughed. “Yes, I am.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and showed her the screen. Madge recognized their last conversation. “Will we grab a table?”
Feeling a little dazed, Madge followed him to a small table in the corner. Sitting opposite him, she realized what he’d meant when he’d said he was the male version of Katniss. They looked a lot alike. “You’re not what I was expecting,” she admitted.
“I gathered,” Gale said with a grin. “I’m really glad you came. Katniss thought you might not show up.”
“Is that why you were hitting in me before you realized who I was?”
Gale ducked his head a little sheepishly. “I knew who you were. Katniss sent me pictures. I… This is going to sound really conceited.” Madge raised an eyebrow but she motioned for him to continue. “I get a lot of interest from girls because of how I look, but then they realize I’m a bit of a nerd and they lose interest pretty quickly. I wanted to see if you’d still like me if I wasn’t….” He waved a hand at his face. “I didn’t expect that guy to walk in just then, that was lucky timing.”
Madge giggled. “I guess so.” She was grateful to the guy, whoever he was, he’d made her realize how much she liked Gale, not matter what he looked like. It was gratifying to find out she wasn’t as horribly shallow as she’d assumed.
A waiter approached them, order pad at the ready. “Would you like to order?”
Madge glanced down at the unopened menu in her hands. “We’re going to need a few minutes.” Maybe she’d learned to be less picky about guys, but it she still had very high standards when it came to pizza.