tagNovels and NovellasWhat's Her Name? I Can't Tell You!

What's Her Name? I Can't Tell You!


For the real Brandy, wherever I may find her




Many pictures

Staring back at me

You've been so long

And had so many sisters...

"That's all I've got so far," James told Brandy, closing the notebook. "But it's not bad for being inspired by someone I've only talked to twice, is it?"

His extroverted friend gave him an uncharacteristically shy grin. "It's beautiful, James, but what's with the ruffles?"

"The ruffles are the way I imagined a woman's dorm room looked like before I actually got to college," Jim explained with a shy grin of his own that was not at all uncharacteristic. "Very lush and feminine and pretty -- and perfect for an evening of candlelight sitting on her bed and getting to know one another in a safe space." Toward the end of his explanation, James slipped into embarrassed laughter. "So it's the perfect scene for a hopeless romantic like me! But what can I say? She's melted my heart, and I'm shooting the moon on how I want it all to end up."

Seeing it was okay, Brandy joined in on the laughter. "That's adorable, James. Yes, wouldn't it be wonderful if our rooms did look like a princess' chamber? And the many sisters...are you hoping for more girls lined up outside her door?"

"You know me better than that!" James protested. "No, the 'many sisters' are the many other young women I fell for before she came along and it didn't work out." Brandy looked away in embarrassment, and James touched her arm gently. "Sorry! I didn't mean it as anything about you, really. We're friends, after all, and that's that."

"I thought maybe you were teasing me," Brandy said, looking back to him. "Which is okay, but...I wasn't sure."

"What's to be unsure about? You didn't like me like that, and I needed to learn that's the way love works sometimes." To his surprise, James was able to smile without forcing it. "I'm just glad we were able to work through that and still be friends."

"And now that you've fallen for this lovely lady, whatever her name is, it's that much easier," Brandy said. "For us both."

"I guess," James said, not sure what to make of that.

"I wish you would at least tell me her name," Brandy said. "You know you can trust me with that, and I've been telling you since December, I might even know her and be able to learn something about your chances."

James bit his lip. It did seem so very silly to hide that from even Brandy of all people. "You're right, of course," he finally said. "It's...it's Sarah Martin."

"Oh, James, she'd be great for you!" Brandy exclaimed.

"You don't really mean that!"

"Yes, I do! She's brilliant, and beautiful, and I barely know her myself but I know she's a really nice person. And you deserve all that and more, whether you can see it or not, James."

"Well, thanks, but I mean, she's so far out of --"

"Don't say 'Out of my league,' James! I forbid it! You've got to stop running yourself down like that! You know, to be completely honest, that's one reason why I couldn't see us together."

"Yeah, but she's a junior, and so active in everything, and so popular, and I'm a geeky freshman. I'm only being realistic here!"

"Listen, James, you've got to stop thinking like that! I really am on your side about Sarah. Just...you're so shy, you've got to bite the bullet and talk to her if things are ever going to go anywhere. That's what I did with Paul, after all."

James nodded, tamping down his last shreds of lingering jealousy of Paul, who at least wasn't around now. "How are things going with him?"

"Fine, thanks. He's loving his new job at the Campus Ethics Board, but there's so much he can't tell me because all the cases are secret. It's a little frustrating when he can't tell me anything about his day, but I guess it helps us build trust that we can respect each other's boundaries, you know."

"That's nice, he said through clenched teeth," James quipped, forcing a smile.

"You know I love you, too, James," Brandy said. "But Paul...well, he and I are both saving ourselves for marriage, for one thing. Do you really think you and I could have worked as a couple knowing I wouldn't be sleeping with you?"

"I'd have been more than happy to wait for you, Brandy. I told you that before."

"Yes, and I'm sure you really believed that. But I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't have led to problems. With Paul, it won't. You deserve someone who agrees with you on that, just like I do. And I hope Sarah is that someone, okay?"

"We have had a couple of nice conversations," James said. "But, I don't know...I mean, I don't really know Sarah at all yet. It's all so fleeting, at least to her it probably is. But to me..."

"But you know her well enough to write poems about a romantic evening in her room?" Brandy couldn't help smiling.

James allowed a wry laugh. "I think that's because I don't know her very well," he said. "When you're just newly smitten with someone you don't know, you can believe anything about her."

"Oh, James, you're so right!" Brandy said. "But the only way to know is to get to know her! I hope you'll give it a try, okay? Even if it doesn't work, you really need to work on coming out of your shell."

"Thanks, Brandy. You're right as usual."

"You're still putting me on a pedestal again, aren't you? But you're welcome." She stood up and offered him a hug before leaving for class, and for the first time in weeks he allowed her to give him one. After enjoying their tender moment, they were both off.

"Very lush and feminine and pretty!" mimicked Eric to his latest of a series of best friends, Randy, from their vantage point behind the couch at the other end of the lounge. Originally the best spot in the lounge for disposing of joints if an RA happened into the room, it had also long since proven to be a great place for eavesdropping; and Eric and Randy had heard every word of James and Brandy's conversation. Randy had lingering qualms about that now that it was done; Eric did not. "Think he's talking about Sarah's room, or about himself?"

"Leave him alone, man, he's only a harmless nerd," Randy said. "And God knows Sarah, the track star with a higher GPA than the two of us combined, she ain't ever gonna bother with a shy little nerd like him! Even he says so!"

"Harmless?!" Eric slugged his friend on the shoulder. "Didn't you hear what happened to the Pi-Delts last semester?"

"Well, yeah," Randy said. "Everybody heard what happened. Couple of 'em got expelled after some dipshit ratted them out about spiking the girls' drinks. What's that got to do with...hang on, man, that was James?!"

"Mister Sensitive," Eric spat the words out like they tasted funny. "Mister Feminist, the campus crazies recruited him to rush Pi Delta so he could get proof of what they did. All kept really hush hush, of course, but it's funny what you can learn when your girlfriend works in the student affairs office."

"Geez, that bitch'll do anything for you, huh?" Randy was amazed as always at Rachel's devotion to Eric when he treated her the way he did.

"She will if I threaten her with no more pot if she doesn't," Eric said. At this, Randy howled with laughter until Eric punched him again. "Dude, shut up. Now, listen. Couple of the guys who got bounced, they were my buddies from way back. Freshman year -- first class together, even. We used to come to class hung over and it was no big deal, they never judged me or anything. I pulled all nighters with them, hid out with them when our beer blasts got shut down, even fucked the same chicks. I was too damn stubborn to get into their stupid fraternity, and that's the only reason why James didn't get me thrown out with them!"

"But you wouldn't have done that to a girl, would you, Eric? What those guys were doing to their drinks?"

"Done what to a girl?" Eric demanded. "You can't make a girl say yes if she really means no -- those guys just made it a little easier for them to come clean that they really wanted it! Mister Politically Correct there just should've minded his own damn business. But he didn't, and a couple of my friends had their lives ruined because of it. I've been saying all semester I'm gonna get him for that, one way or another, and I think we just got what we needed to do that."

"You're gonna get him expelled for writing shitty poetry?" Randy asked. "Sorry, I think the worst he'll get for that is a D in English."

"No, man, it's who he wrote the poetry for! Sarah!"

"Yeah, I know all about Sarah," Randy said. "Sarah Martin, a shoo in for Phi Beta Kappa and the top half-miler on the track team, and besides that she's a junior and he's a freshman. It ain't like she's ever gonna go out with a drip like him, if he ever asked in the first place, and you know he won't ask anyway 'cause he's too damn shy."

"Exactly," Eric grumbled. "That's just it all right. He's too much of a little smarm to ever get in any real trouble, so I can forget about an eye for an eye. But if we can't expel him, we can humiliate him. Make sure the little fucker gets so terrified of women from now on that he'll be a virgin till kingdom come."

"Brilliant," muttered Randy. "But how are you gonna get Sarah Martin to help you out with that? Everything I've ever heard of her is she's too nice a gal to ever do anything like that. Not that she'd actually go out with him, but she wouldn't hurt him. Hell, she probably supports what he did to your friends."

"All the more reason to fuck around with her, too," Eric said. "I mean, she probably won't give a fuck about it all, but it certainly won't reflect well on her all the same."

"What won't?"

"I have a plan," Eric said. "Been working on it a while. All I needed was something I knew I could hurt James with, and now we've got it."

"We?" Randy stood up and dusted his jeans off. "I don't know if I want any part of this, man. Sounds like some people could get hurt who haven't done anything to me."

"Calm down, it's just a prank. It'll hurt the little fucker's feelings and maybe teach him a lesson, but that's all. Besides, it is almost April Fool's Day. Anyone does get on our case, we'll just say it was a joke. Happens all the time in this place."

Randy sat down on the couch and looked over the back, a safe distance from Eric. "All right, then, what's your idea? I'm not saying I'll go along with it, but --"

"I don't need you to go along with it," Eric said. "I've got Todd for that."

"Todd Chambers? From your floor? The theatre guy?"

Eric nodded. "He and James are good buddies, I guess. I'll get the information on James I need from him, and then he's going to do me a favor."

"If he's a friend of James, why would he help you screw him?"

"None of your business, Randy, but he will."


A heroic undercover mission and his first broken heart -- what a way to begin his college career! And yet, it had leant a certain sense of anticlimax to everything that had followed. Not that James had minded when he was out on his long walks with Brandy. As platonic as anything he had ever experienced, those long walks had nevertheless been the most intimate experience of his young life. They had walked all over their little town -- often beyond the city limits, which really wasn't very hard to do -- and talked of everything under the sun. Everything including sex, although neither of them had any firsthand knowledge of it. He had even told her about his role in exposing the Pi Delts, something he'd been advised not to do with anyone. "But I just had to tell someone," he'd said.

Her initial response had delighted him. "That was you?! That was...brave, James. And very noble. You probably made the campus safer for all the women. Thank you. But just why did you join the feminist alliance? Hardly any guys do, I hear."

"That's why I did," James had explained. "More guys do need to get involved, and I wanted to do my part. Speaking of which, why haven't you joined?"

"Because I'm pro-life."

"Oh." James, himself staunchly pro-choice, had opted to leave the conversation hanging on that note. Political disagreements and all, though, James had had no doubt that with patience, friendship would grow into love.

But it hadn't. "It'd never work, James," she had told him gently late last fall. "I'm extroverted, and you're --"

"Not," James had acknowledged.

"Not. Exactly. We're just too different that way. Besides, you have your friends on the cross country team and I have my friends from church, and what do they have in common?! And you know I'm saving myself for marriage, James."

"I'll wait for you! I'm more than willing to do that."

"You say that now. But it's three years to graduation, and then I still might not be ready to settle down. Besides, what if it didn't work out? You're a guy, you ought to be having your fun, and you'll resent me if you save yourself and then it never happens."

"Brandy, that's a terrible thing to say!" But in that moment, he'd known she was right -- they were all wrong for each other after all.

James had poured his resulting angst into his studies, and finished the semester with a gaudy 3.75 GPA. And with a schoolboyish crush on Sarah Martin, which this time he'd been smart enough to keep to himself. He had made the mistake of letting it slip to his friends that he had the hots for someone, but none had ever learned who the new object of his affection was. Not even Brandy. And he intended to keep it that way. After all, it was hopeless that it would ever lead anywhere, and he knew it. High school might have been over, but not everything had changed: the smartest, prettiest and most athletic girl in school still didn't date nerds. But it was such fun to imagine holding her late at night in some quiet, secluded place! That wonderful image was worth the gnawing emptiness that always followed it, and it was well worth keeping his longing a top secret.

It had started, as crushes so often do, with a single pleasant exchange in a weak moment. On leaving the library late that night in December, he hadn't been weak so much as he'd been tired...but not too tired to remember his manners and hold the door open for the young woman who was also on her way out. It was not love at first sight. She was just another upperclassman, vaguely intimidating and off-limits to James, but ever so lovely in her peasant skirt and knit top, which he admired discreetly until she zipped up her coat against the chill outside.

"Thanks. Say, what's your name?"

It took James an awkward second to realize she really was talking to him. "Oh, hi! I'm James."

"Hi, James. I'm Sarah. I saw you at the cross country finals, didn't I?"

"Yeah! Wow, good memory." James never had been any good at remembering faces of people he didn't already know.

"I run track in the winter and spring," she explained. "So I'm on the sidelines in the fall, but I like to come out and support the team. I really envy your camaraderie, so much tighter than track. But I'm not a distance runner. You're a freshman, aren't you?"

"I'm afraid so," James admitted.

That drew a laugh from Sarah. "Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of! This isn't high school, after all."

"True, but it sometimes feels like it," James said.

"I know," Sarah said, and to his surprise she touched his hand. "But we're all growing up sooner or later, and you see that here when you really need it. It's great that you can be so honest about your feelings like that, too. Most men never learn how to do that."

The rest of their conversation was a blur to him now, and had been as early as the next day when James had told Brandy about the lovely, far too brief conversation he'd enjoyed, and the sweet fleeting taste of intimacy that ensured he would have no problem remembering her name next time. "A big talker like you, so she's perfect for a listener like me," he'd said. "And she was so easy to talk to! It felt like we were old friends, almost from the start."

"That's great, James. What's her name?"

"Oh...I'd rather not tell anyone that just yet. I think she's a little out of my league and probably nothing's going to happen, so..."

"Well, of course nothing's going to happen if you think that way!"

"Well, I won't! Honest, once I get to know her better, then I'll have a better feel for if there's any chance."

But he hadn't gotten to know her any better. James just didn't have it in him to put his heart on the line yet again so soon after Brandy. And so he'd restricted himself to cordial smiles for Sarah whenever they passed in the hall or around campus, and nothing more.


Todd Chambers, from the deepest reaches of rural Utah, had a Western accent and a silky singing voice that made all the women from the private New York high schools melt. He also had an uncanny ability to imitate a woman's voice, a parlor trick that further endeared him to them. James might have been jealous of his friend, except that he never seemed to take advantage of his innate charm. While they never wanted for female companionship when Todd was around, none ever showed any sign of having won him over, and so they came and went, and James enjoyed their company no matter how fleeting it was.

It was just as well that they were on their own on that particular Saturday night at the dorm party, as James found himself eating his heart out over Sarah yet again and he didn't care to have to explain that to any of Todd's lady friends. He'd had no reason to think she wouldn't turn up at a dorm lounge party on her side of campus, of course; but in keeping with his vow to keep his crush to himself, he hadn't given it any thought, one way or the other. In any case, there she was, unusually casual in jeans and a forest green sweater against the frigid winter weather outside, but still looking as beautiful as ever.

And there was James, a wallflower as usual, eyeing her whenever he dared but careful not to stare -- or to be seen looking at her. No one needed to know little old James had a crush on someone who could have any guy on campus eating out of her hand.

"You okay, dude?" Todd asked, returning from the keg with two paper cups full of beer; he handed James one.

"Thanks. Uh, yeah, I'm fine. Sorry!"

"I'm just asking 'cause you looked like you were checking someone out, but then you were just standing here. Hope you haven't got issues with anyone over there?"

"Eh, no, not really," James said. "Just admiring the scenery," he added with a smile that he didn't really feel.

"C'mon, man, who is it? Is it this mystery girl of yours that you're telling everyone you're crazy about but you won't say who she is? Or do anything about it?"

James allowed a nervous, uncomfortable laugh, knowing Todd had his number. "Ah, it's all right."

"Why don't we go dance, then? C'mon, man, I can see there's someone you want to at least dance with. Why shouldn't you?"

"You're right, I should. We should." James took a sip of the beer. "But I don't think I'm drunk enough yet."

"I'll give you that," Todd agreed, slugging down his drink. "Now, who is it, James? You've got to tell someone sooner or later." Without waiting for an answer, he looked across the room at the gaggle of dancing women. "The tall one in the green sweater?"

James' heart backflipped. "Why would it be her?" he managed to ask calmly.

"Why wouldn't it? Even if it isn't, she's a good place to start, isn't she? She's beautiful!"

"Can't deny that," James said. He followed suit and gulped down his beer. Holding up his empty cup, he said, "My turn. Want another?"

Todd looked over at the crowd around the keg, and then at the dancers. "Nah, let's go hit the bar."

"Great idea!" James allowed himself one last longing look at Sarah having the time of her life with her friends, and they were off.

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