She likes to say we met in candlelight but it wasn't quite that way.
They met three weeks after Ned moved into the apartment building, on a weekend when Nancy came home in the midst of a building winter storm. Nancy and George were living together then, but George was on a trip, and so Nancy had the apartment to herself.
The lights flickered when she was in the elevator. Nancy had been preoccupied but she glanced up at the ceiling, memorizing what she saw in case she needed to escape in the dark. The car creaked and swayed up to her floor before safely depositing her there, and she was thankful.
When the lights went out three hours later, Nancy already had her candles and lantern out, and the gas-powered heater full. The world outside was white, the wind howling, seeking the cracks and seams. She was sitting on the couch wrapped in a puffy comforter, a mug of hot chocolate in her hand, when the flickering began. A chorus of shouts and groans went up when the building seemed to almost sigh around them, as the television and heater clicked off, leaving just the howling of the wind.
Nancy just sighed, settling deeper into her comforter. She had already found her scarf and mittens, and at least her hot chocolate wasn't too cool yet.
It was an hour later, when the light was starting to turn blue outside and the apartment was definitely cooler, that Nancy realized she had forgotten one thing: the large D-cell batteries to run her radio. The radio hadn't been used in a while, and when she flipped it on, nothing happened. She was glad she had a few spare fully-charged batteries for her phone, but she didn't want to waste the energy by using it when she didn't have to.
Then she heard some hooting from upstairs. It was Friday night, and the upstairs tenants had apparently decided that they weren't going to let the storm interfere with their party plans. The snow was still coming down, though, and Nancy had no idea when the power would be restored. Every other minute she glanced at her closed laptop, but she decided to find something else to do. She had books she could read, and she could work on tidying up her bedroom…
Fifteen minutes later, she could smell charcoal, and she stopped her pacing and went to the pantry to dig out the camp stove she and George had used during the last power outage. At least that might provide a little warmth; she had closed the curtains, but the room was still chilly. She was shivering in anticipation of how incredibly cold her bedsheets were going to be. The pot of spaghetti and meatballs would be the best bet for dinner, and at least it wouldn't spoil in the cold… but she wasn't all that hungry yet.
Nancy couldn't help it; she poked her head out, looking into the dim hallway. A man was walking from the direction of the stairwell, bundled up in a heavily insulated coat, a few plastic bags in one gloved hand. "How is it?"
"A nightmare," he told her. "God. So the power's still out, huh."
"Yeah." It should have been the end of their conversation, but he stopped in front of her door and worked his glove off, then swept his hood off too. His hair was dark, his jaw square, his dark eyes sparkling. A faint shadow of stubble darkened his cheek. She couldn't help wondering if he was a model; he definitely looked handsome enough to succeed at it. "Sorry, I just moved in down the hall. Haven't met all the neighbors yet. Ned Nickerson."
He was smiling as he shifted the bags over and extended his hand, and Nancy shook it. "Nancy Drew. It's nice to meet you."
He nodded, his gaze on hers for a moment longer than it probably should have been. "Nice to meet you. I guess I'll go put these away… I'm down in 8F, if you need anything."
She smiled. "And I'll, uh… be here."
Ned's smile became a grin. "Seriously, don't go out if you can help it. It's awful out there."
He kept walking down the hall, and Nancy forced herself to back into her apartment and close the door. Well, he was certainly very handsome, and friendly. She knew exactly what Bess would have recommended: find an excuse to go talk to him, and set up a date or something. Have a conversation that was more than a perfunctory exchange of greetings.
She made a face as she looked down at her outfit. She had put on waffle-knit long underwear, fleece pajama pants and a sweatshirt, and fuzzy socks over her normal socks. She looked like a college student; she had washed off her makeup practically as soon as she had walked through the door.
Even so, half an hour later, Nancy worked up the nerve, slipped on some shoes, and walked down the hall to 8F. He would probably say no, and that would be it, and she would just try again later, or something…
He answered her knock, wearing his overstuffed coat. "Hi there. Nancy?"
She nodded and smiled. "So you said if I needed anything… can I barter with you?"
"Maybe." He was smiling as he leaned against the doorframe, his dark-eyed gaze on her face. "What do you have to offer?"
Nancy flushed a little. She knew exactly what double entendre Bess would have come up with in reply, but Nancy didn't have the nerve. "I have a camp stove and a big pot of leftover spaghetti with meatballs. But I don't have any D-cell batteries for my radio. Could you help me out?"
"Hmm. Do you by chance have some of that glorious frozen cheesy French bread?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "Maybe."
"Well, you drive a hard bargain… and I'll be honest, I might not even have that size battery. But I'd go buy some if it meant a hot dinner."
"Oh, don't do that. Really. I…"
"Hang on." Ned gestured for her to come in, and she saw a few cardboard boxes in the corner of the living room, the somewhat-ordered chaos on his coffee table. She heard him sorting through drawers in the kitchen, and then he came back with a package in his hand. "How many did you need?"
"Uh, six. I think."
"I have four."
She smiled. "I'll take it. If you're interested in dinner, anyway."
"Why don't you give me about ten minutes and come over?" she suggested.
"Sounds great. Is it okay if I come like this?" She hadn't really noticed what he had been wearing in the hallway, but he wore an Emerson College sweatsuit.
She made a dismissive sound. "Well, I'll be in this stunning ensemble," she said with a mock bow, gesturing at her own outfit. "So I think we'll make a good pair."
Ned smiled. "I like the sound of that."
The entire time she was setting up the camp stove and reheating dinner, she felt nervous, and she hadn't felt this nervous when thinking about a guy in a long time. But it was just a friendly offer of dinner, that was all, she had nothing to worry about.
Nine minutes later, she heard a knock at her door. She glanced up from the cook stove, her heart skipping a beat, and answered it.
"Thought this might make up for those last two batteries," Ned said, lifting a bag in greeting. "Wow, that smells great."
Just then the partiers upstairs let out a cheer, and Ned glanced up. "What's that?"
"Some people trying to beat the cold upstairs. Probably by getting as drunk as possible. What's in the bag?"
Ned closed the door behind him and followed her to the kitchen. "Some dessert. My weakness is dessert. And getting drunk doesn't sound like an entirely awful idea."
Nancy chuckled as she stirred the spaghetti again, then tested it with a fingertip to see if it was heated through. At least she was warmer beside the camp stove.
She had discovered that she didn't have any frozen cheese toast, and she would have been worried about burning it over the flame, anyway. Instead she took white sandwich bread, smeared it with butter and dusted it with garlic powder, and topped it with a little cheese. Ned pronounced it almost as good, and definitely delicious; when she offered a second serving of the spaghetti she could tell he wanted it, even though he refused until she insisted.
He looked around as she served his plate again. "With all that shouting upstairs, the snow, the candlelight… perfect setting for a mystery."
Nancy couldn't help staring at him for a moment, trying to disguise her eagerness with a polite smile. "Oh? You like mysteries? I was just trying to read one this afternoon."
"'Trying to' sounds about right for me. My mom loves them. I watched them with her when I was a kid, the British ones that came on public TV? Every time I see one when I'm flipping through, it makes me think of her."
They kept talking, as they toasted marshmallows and made s'mores with the graham crackers and hazelnut spread he had brought over, as they swapped out enough of the old batteries in Nancy's radio to provide power so they could listen to weather updates. Ned had a great sense of humor, and after an hour she felt like she had known him for years. He asked her about the neighborhood, about any nice restaurants or affordable grocery stores nearby, and about herself.
Once they'd had their fill of s'mores, they went over to the couch and Nancy offered to share the blankets with him. They started off sitting near each other without touching; they kept talking, though, groaning when the weather report said that the storm was expected to last at least a few hours longer. She could tell that Ned was tired, and she was too; she dreaded the moment when he would make his excuses and return to his apartment, and she would be left to her cold sheets.
Then he sighed, and a moment later she felt him slump against her. She looked over at him in surprise, but he seemed to have passed out. The area under the blankets was warm, and he didn't seem to be feigning anything, so she didn't try to wake him.
A few minutes later, Nancy found that she was starting to fall asleep, too. With a giant yawn she reluctantly slipped out from beneath the blankets and went over to the window to open the curtains, hoping for a little ambient light. She didn't want to leave the candles lit while she was asleep.
Then she returned to the couch, and Ned released a little sigh as she moved close to him. "My apartment's freezing," he murmured. "And you're… your place is so nice and warm…"
"Mmm-hmm," she agreed. "Want to… I mean, you can stay here if you want…"
"Mmm. Promise to be good?" he murmured.
"I promise to be unconscious," she chuckled. "If you promise to be good."
"Pinky swear. No drawing on people's faces while they're asleep. Then we'll be good."
She laughed a little as she hooked her pinky around his, then looked into his eyes—and her heart skipped a beat again. "Deal."
"And I'll be good until the morning," he told her. "After breakfast? All bets are off."
"Especially if we're frozen stiff."
Halfway through the night, when she woke with her teeth chattering and headed to the bathroom, Ned had slumped down on the couch so his head was on an arm. She returned and Ned cuddled her close to him; the couch was wide enough for them to lie curled up together on their sides.
He murmured happily as she buried her face against his sweatshirt; he was so warm. It was then that she had the thought, one she wouldn't realize again for a while: that she really loved being in his arms, that as nervous as she was she couldn't deny how safe she felt.
In the morning the overhead light was on and sunlight was streaming through the window. Nancy pushed herself up with a large yawn, raking her hair back from her face as she looked down at the guy on her couch. He blinked up at her and murmured, "Oh, you're even more beautiful in the light."
She chuckled. "And so are you."
"Did I say I was going to be good until breakfast?"
She nodded, then let out a yelp as he reached up and tugged her down. She let him draw her to him, and brushed the cold tip of her nose against his.
"Then I guess I'll keep my word."
She smiled, even though she was feeling a little disappointed. "And buy me breakfast, Nickerson? Since you owe me a meal, after all."
"Unh-uh," he said, shaking his finger as both of them sat up. "The batteries were payment for dinner, Drew. But, on second thought—I owe you a lot more than dinner."
"Oh?" she said, standing up and brushing her hair out of her eyes again. "How so?"
"You gave me a lot more than dinner," he pointed out. "So I'll have to invite you over and make the only meal I know how to do without screwing it up."
"Which is?" She couldn't help playing along, or smiling at him. She felt like they had somehow managed to cram all the nervousness and bonding of three dates into the night before.
"Memphis dry rub pork ribs," he replied promptly. "Throw 'em in the oven and let them bake. No work at all. You can make dessert, if you want," he added gallantly.
"And after?" She finally made her gaze meet his, her voice softer.
"After, I think we owe it to ourselves to find out if my bed is more comfortable than your couch," he murmured. "If you make me pinky-swear, I even promise to be a gentleman again. But only if you make me pinky-swear."
"You drive a hard bargain, Nickerson. When?"
"Tonight?" he suggested immediately, and she had to grin. "What? I don't like being in anyone's debt for too long, I don't know anyone around here… and I bet my bed is awfully cold right now."
"And after that, well, it just wouldn't be right not to take you out and show you some sights…"
Ned nodded and wrapped his arm around her waist. "Give me fifteen minutes," he murmured against the crown of her head, "and then we're going to the best brunch place in the city, my treat. Deal?"
"Deal," she agreed, and when she closed the door behind him she knew she needed to get ready… but she took the time to do a little twirl, giggling as she did.
She had expected the weekend to be boring. She had never been more glad to be proven wrong.