A/N: First attempt at a fantasy genre. I know the "fantasy" hasn't come into play yet, but it will once the characters are introduced. A note to all reviewers: I like constructive criticism. Any ideas on how to improve the story will be appreciated very much. Thanks.

Strain

First Introductions

AILEEN O'CONNOR

Her door was open.

The piano room was at the north end of the hallway, and the strains of someone practicing carried throughout the dorm hallway and infiltrated the ears of the girl who currently sat on her bed, intently leafing through the pages of a biology textbook. The music seemed to focus her, until it abruptly stopped. A few minutes later, the pianist burst into the room.

"We should go out tonight, Ai. Whaddya say?"

Aileen looked up from her textbook. "Rosa, it's Tuesday. It's a school night!"

"So?" Rosa asked. She stood in front of the mirror and retouched her makeup with a careful hand. "I've been practicing for weeks for finals. I'm going out." She opened her closet and started rummaging through the items. "I really need to do my laundry. Can I borrow that blue sparkly shirt?"

Aileen grunted and turned the page in her book. "I have a huge test tomorrow, and Professor Schneider's tests are killer. There's no way I'm going out. But you can borrow my shirt. Just wash it before you give it back this time." She pushed the bridge of her glasses up her nose and continued reading.

"Margaritas.two for one!" Rosa tempted. "And all the Sig Ep guys are going to be there.talk about droolworthy."

She sighed. "I don't want to be hauling your drunk ass back to campus. Why don't you go with Kerry and Hannah?"

Rosa flopped down on Aileen's bed. "They're not going! They have to study. Like you do. All the time."

Aileen smiled at her roommate. "You need to study too, Rosa. Unless you really want to flunk out."

This elicited a groan from Rosa. As a music major with an emphasis on piano, she spent hours carefully working out pieces. She didn't have the time for the other required classes, but she had to get through them to graduate. Finally, she sat up and looked at Aileen.

"Okay. But you have to help me with the math, and you have to go out with us on Friday!"

"Fine," she said. "I'm not gonna do it for you. I'll show you." She bent over the textbook and started to explain the concept, occasionally stopping to push her muddy brown bangs out of her face. Math always came easily to Aileen, who constantly ran into numbers as a computer science major. Her goal was to become a programmer in a large corporation by the time she was 24, and every move that she made expressed her determination.

Others saw her as a headstrong, fiercely independent girl who could very well achieve her goals, even at the expense of other friendships. It was amazing that she and Rosa got along so well, the studious left-brain and the flirtatious, creative Nicaraguan. Aileen herself was actually amazed, but chalked it up to the fact that she and Rosa were never in the room together at the same time and each had their own circle of friends. Otherwise, they would drive each other insane.

"Do you get it, Rosa? You need to figure out x first and it makes the other variables easy to find."

"Yeah, I think," she said haltingly. "You finish studying. I'll figure it out. Can you check it later?"

"Sure. No problem."

Rosa retreated to her bed and started to concentrate. For an hour, the room was silent with the occasional soft scratches of Rosa's pencil and the rustle of Aileen's notes.

Suddenly, Aileen slammed her book shut and abruptly stood up. "That's it!" she cried.

"Jesus, girl! Don't scare me like that! What the hell's gotten into you?" Rosa asked, cowering on her bed. Aileen merely took off her glasses and grabbed her room key. "I'm going out. See you tomorrow." She slammed the door decisively. Rosa only stared after her, dumbfounded.

TOBIAS JOHNSON

".and those are the reasons why I ask the university for support of this community service project. Thank you."

Tobias stepped off the platform as the businessmen and women applauded politely. The meeting was then adjourned and the audience started to mingle. However, Tobias's mind was focused on getting some lunch. The meeting with the school officials had taken up a good amount of time, and he only had half an hour before his next class. He raced out of the conference room and sped across campus to the student union. The easily recognizable boy because of his height heard several greetings being called out, but could only manage a wave before dashing into the convenience store packed with students.

As usual, the offerings ranged from disgusting to unfit for human consumption. He grabbed a prepackaged sandwich, probably the cheapest thing that they made. Just as he took a huge bite of it, a girl hailed him down.

"Hey, Tobias!" she called out. "Class is cancelled. Great, huh?"

Tobias paused for a good minute while he swallowed the mouthful of ham and cheese and downed his water. "Yeah. Great. Hi Ali."

Ali smiled. The pretty blonde freshman had already made waves on campus as a talented cheerleader and member of the most popular sorority. It was rumored that she had a huge crush on Tobias, and it was probably true. She flipped her hair behind her shoulder and giggled.

"That stupid class. Professor Marsek is such a weirdo!" She rolled her eyes.

"Actually," he said, "I like it. Marsek's one of the best teachers on campus."

Ali blinked. "Oh. So, we agree to disagree then?"

"Agree to disagree? We haven't had a conflict!"

"Um-well."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Are you doing anything Saturday night? My sorority is having a dance, and I was wondering if you would go with me?" She blushed.

"No. I have plans." He stated flatly. Tobias had absolutely no interest in her other than other for aesthetic purposes. Even though Ali probably had a lot more to her, all he saw was her vapid side. "Now if you'll excuse me." He walked off abruptly.

Ali stood in his tracks, a fierce look on her face. She would bag Tobias, no matter what it took.