A.N: And after weeks of being dormant, I have finally resurfaced with a new story! Cue evil laughter... Erm, anyway...

As is obvious, yes, this is James' story. From your responses, and my personal preference, I've decided to toy with the characters from this universe just a little bit more. I would've posted this sooner, however, time constraints and constant editing--there was always something wrong with what I'd previously written, so I had to change it-- kept me from such, but now, I'm glad to present this finally. Have fun reading!

Strange and Beautiful

Chapter One

Of Milkshakes, Tutus, and Goggles

Somewhere, in Harrington Student Center, Sophia Michelle Spencer was busy strangling her milkshake.

The shiny brochure for Knightmoore University had boasted of the enriching and memorable time the students would experience on the vast, modern-ish campus. As well as a wide variety of courses, renowned professors, and overall exemplary academics, the blue and white pamphlet had said that a student's experience at Knightmoore would teach them core values that would be much needed for the future—determination, perseverance, and most of all, patience.

Sadly, patience had never met Sophia Spencer.

She was, as of now, glaring at the current bane of her existence with an expression that was equal parts exasperation, hatred, and weariness. Though the container was squeezed in her grasp, that hateful little object still managed to stare back at her blankly, and Sophia could swear that it was silently mocking her, and, deep within it's shriveled little heart—if such things did have hearts—it was laughing at her scorn too.

"I hate you," she told her milkshake flatly. "You are a cleverly disguised tool for sending children into their death and the moment I throw you in the trash, I will laugh maniacally at your poor fortune." Provided I'm still alive by then, she added silently to herself.

Letting go of the cup, she surveyed the mess on her table—a short stack of papers which was now covered with the previous contents of her cup. She'd been irritable all day, and she'd looked over the files as fast as she could and now, in her impatience to shove her things back into her back, she'd knocked over the cup and the milkshake had spilled. And now, here she was.

"And that definitely doesn't look good," a voice remarked, and Sophia took a break from glaring at the milkshake-from-hell to see Kevin Sinclair and Sara Wilson sliding into the empty chairs beside her. "Tell us, when you die, do you want it to be a solemn event, with everyone wearing black and you getting buried six feet under, or something a little less stifling, like scattering ashes on the beach?"

"You think this is funny? My mother is going to kill me!" Sophia exclaimed wildly, moving her finger across her throat to prove her point. "I am meeting her in an hour, and I'm supposed to have everything ready. She's going to have my head when she sees this." She sighed. "I'm going to be dead, anyway, so do me a favor and keep my stuff safe, okay? And tell Aeryn goodbye for me."

"And this sort of thing is exactly the reason why I'm surprised that you aren't in the Drama department," Sarah said with an eye-roll. "Sweetie, you're over-reacting. As usual."

"Would it kill you two to show a little bit of sympathy?" she demanded from them as she pushed a lock of blonde hair from her face, her brown eyes glittering indignantly. "Gee, you'd think after ten years of friendship…"

"Two months, actually." The two girls turned to Kevin in questioning. He shrugged in response. "The two of you have been best friends for ten years. However, you've only known me for two months. That means I'm not required to be nice to you."

"Gee, Kev, you'd think you banging on some random girl's door, begging to use their computer since yours went dead and the facilities closed for the night, and me graciously agreeing would warrant just a little bit of gratitude and niceness from you, but nooo…"

As she said this, Sophia took some tissues to wipe off the slush. Since the text was printed, it was still readable, but having gotten wet, it was now dangerously frail and as she wiped it off, the pages began to tear with every movement, much to her horror.

"Yeah, I'm totally screwed right now," she affirmed, more to herself than to anyone else. "Remind me again why I decided to do this here again instead of my dorm room?"

"Because you thought it was a good idea at the time, and didn't think that this would happen," Sara said matter-of-factly.

Sophia merely sighed. She hated it when Sara was right.

"Look, Fee, chill," Kevin added. "You have the information in your computer. Just print another copy."

"Yeah, and I will, but the point is, my mother is still going to go all psycho killer on me," Sophia's mouth twisted into a grimace which looked almost comical. "She'll know it's a new copy. Trust me, Kevin, she knows these things. I bet she even knows what's happening right now."

"Yeah, you've definitely lost it," Kevin declared, throwing his arms up in the air. The loud buzz of conversation from many a collegiate floated in and out around them, but they paid no mind to it. Harrington was always busy, always full, and it was a great place to meet and interact with others. It was the most popular place on campus, and one of Sophia's favorite places at Knightmoore, but right now, she wasn't exactly its number 1 fan.

Sighing, she placed the remainders of the file back in her binder, and stuffed it into her bag. She'd print a new copy, drive into town, and face the wrath of her mother, she decided. She was overreacting, she knew, and the sooner she got this whole thing over with, the better.

She just hoped the dead weight that was settling in her stomach would go away.

v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v

James Masterson was slowly losing patience. The eighteen year-old college freshman was presently staring at the view from his dorm room window, phone clutched to his ear and a supremely irritated look on his face.

"Look, Nate," James said with a long-suffering sigh. "You're my best friend, and I'd love to help, but Kaitlin's your girlfriend. If you want to know what to get her for her birthday, then ask her, and not your best friend who is halfway across the country from you."

"I did ask," Nathan Gallagher's voice, equally long-suffering, said from the other line. "The first time I did, she gave me this secret little smile and said, "Figure it out.' The next time I asked, she told me she didn't want anything."

"Well, then, there you go." James glanced at his watch, praying that the call would be over soon-- he wanted to go out and get some cookies, and he didn't want to continue the conversation in the noisy student center. Besides, as much as he liked talking to his best friend, a thoroughly whipped, lovesick Nathan Gallagher obsessing over what to give his crazy, neurotic girlfriend was something he didn't really want to hear right now.

"She says she doesn't want anything, so don't get her anything. Plain and simple."

"Are you crazy? Do you want me to get killed?" was Nathan's rather horrified reply. "Everyone knows that girls don't really mean it when they say that. They just stay stupid stuff like that but what they really mean is that they want to be surprised. But if you don't get them anything, they pounce on you like an angry tiger and rip you to shreds. Kaitlin isn't an exception to that, even if she isn't entirely normal."

"Insulting your girlfriend behind her back, yeah, great foundation for a relationship," James replied sarcastically. "How is Kaitlin, anyway?"

"Oh, you know, enjoying every 10-page essay the professors fling at her. I haven't seen her much for the past few weeks; she's either at class or at the library, but we're going out tomorrow to celebrate, though."

"You mean you two haven't met up for a little intimate study session yet?" James couldn't help but grin.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Nathan said, and the smirk could be felt even in just his voice.

James tore his gaze away from the window and turned to the door just as Aaron Riley walked in. "It's Nathan," he called out to him.

Aaron nodded almost absently as he opened his laptop. "Tell him I said hi," he said out loudly.

"Tell Aaron he's a lousy excuse of a friend," Nathan, who'd heard Aaron, said to James. Laughing, James put his phone on 'speaker', so Aaron could hear. "I ask for his help, and he puts down the phone. Ass."

"I'm not getting involved with you and Kaitlin," Aaron called out as he opened a blank document and pulled out a book. "It's great that you've finally realized how stupid you were being by being in denial, but I refuse to have any part in the drama that'll inevitably ensue."

"Don't mind Aaron, he's just bitter that you called him just as he was about to get hot and heavy with Amanda Hayes," James smirked. To Aaron, he said, "Seriously dude, the next time you want to score with a hot babe, do me a favor and at least lock the door."

"Noted," was his flat reply as his fingers began to fly across the keyboard.

James switched the phone back to normal and put it once more to his ear. "Despite the fact that you're halfway across the country, you still manage to involve me and the rest of your helpless, poor little friends with you and Kaitlin's weirdness."

He could picture Nathan's eye-roll. "Weirdness? Is that what they call relationships these days, or is that just you? Haven't you found anyone remotely interesting there?"

"Oh, I have," James smirked, remembering that leggy blonde who'd so kindly helped him 'study' for a test. "It's fun playing the field when there're so many vixens to choose from." Nathan laughed, and James added, "Seriously, though, if you want my advice, get her some jewelry. All girls love jewelry, especially expensive ones. As you said, Kaitlin isn't an exception, even if she isn't entirely normal."

"Jewelry…" Nathan's voice was contemplative. "That just might not get me killed. Thanks, man."

"No problem. Listen, I gotta go. Say hi to Kaitlin for me, okay?" And after a few more words, James finally clicked off his phone and stuffed it in his pocket. With a sigh, he asked, "Do you think Nathan realizes just how pathetically whipped he's gotten? I think he's so pathetically whipped that he doesn't even realize he's pathetically whipped. It's weird."

"You've said 'whipped' so many times you could make mayonnaise," Aaron pointed out. "And you think every guy who's in a serious, actual relationship is weird."

"Well, why tie yourself down to one girl when you have a whole world of girls at your disposal?" James retorted. He shook his head and grabbed his coat from his bed. "Look, whatever. I'm heading out. Food beckons."

"Since when does it not?" Aaron replied dryly. "Oh," he said before James could leave. "Don't forget. Party at Ken's apartment tonight." He paused. "Remind me again how you managed to get an invite?"

Ken Fiddleman was a junior who lived off-campus. He knew who Aaron was, so he'd had no problem getting invited. Well known around Knightmoore, Ken didn't usually invite freshmen, even those his friends knew—you had to be invited by him personally-- but as far as James was concerned, there wasn't any party that he wasn't invited to. He didn't believe in gate crashing, either, since to him, it just made you look desperate and pathetic.

James smirked once again, his mouth twisting into a self-assured grin. "It's a party, and I never forget parties. As to how I managed to get an invite….it's simple, really." The grin widened. "I'm James Masterson."

He said it in a way that clearly meant that being who he was explained everything, and some reason, it made perfect sense.

v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v

Sophia sighed in relief the moment she reached her dorm room. It had been a long, tiring and frustrating day, with more I-want-to-rip-my-hair-out moments than she could count, starting with the milkshake incident earlier that afternoon. Surprisingly, her mother hadn't caused that much of a scene, seeing as she was too preoccupied with the menu.

Right now, all she wanted to do was lie in bed and turned on some music, relax, and altogether just forget about this crappy day. She'd often felt this sort of stress—she was a college Freshman, after all—but this time, it wasn't because of classes, professors, or deadlines. Oh no.

She was having a headache because she'd just finished meeting with Bridezilla. Who just happened to be her mother.

The file of papers she'd ruined earlier had been wedding plans, caterer's addresses, detailed guest lists and other vital information. She'd reprinted everything, and sure enough, her mother had known that it wasn't the original, so she had to tell her everything. Surprisingly, her mother hadn't caused that much of a scene, seeing as she was way too rattled and way too preoccupied.

Sophia had just gotten a pillow over her head and was muttering, "Mother dear, oh mother dear…" when the doorknob clicked and her roommate, Aeryn Fletcher, walked in. The girl was humming a tune to herself, a milkshake in hand, but she paused once she saw the scene that was currently taking place

"That bad, huh?" she asked as she sat down on her bed.

A moment later, and she wished she'd never asked.

"It was horrible, as always," Sophia groaned, sitting up in bed. "First, she dragged me to the florist to make sure that the order was perfect, but then, she decided she didn't like the set and the arrangement, so she spent two hours choosing a whole new set of flowers, and in the end, went with the original. And then, she went over the wedding menu at least a hundred times, changing so many things I'm surprised Chef Marionne didn't quit on the spot."

"Well, she is getting married," Aeryn pointed out. "Your mother is entitled to be prissy."

"But still, you'd think that after experiencing one wedding, she'd had enough of the whole fancy planning thing. I wonder if she drove dad this crazy when she was planning her first wedding," Sophia said. "No wonder they got divorced."

"How's the husband-to-be handling everything?"

"Oh, Ben's handling it well, considering," Sophia said, managing to crack a small smile. "He's a brave, brave soul, that one."

Benjamin Carrington was her mother's fiancé. Sophia's parents had divorced when she was ten, and she'd met Ben when she was 15. He'd proposed to Sophia's mother a year and a half ago, and would've gotten married sooner had Helene Spencer not fallen pregnant. They'd decided to get married after the child was born, and now, with Sophia's half-sister Beatrice almost a year old, they finally decided to go through with the wedding. And being the dutiful, loving daughter that she was, Sophia had agreed to help out with the wedding, which turned out to be a huge mistake since, apparently, no one had told her that getting married transformed Helene Spencer into the bride-from-hell.

Aeryn merely laughed and took a sip of her milkshake. Sophia's eyes rested on the cup, and her eyes widened. "Evil!" she shrieked, pointing to the cup. "Milkshakes are evil! Evil, I tell you!"

Aeryn brushed a lock of auburn hair from her face as she looked rather taken aback. "Uh, ookaaayyy…." she said slowly. "Has anyone ever told you how weird you are?"

"Many times, the phrase lost its sting after the tenth time," Sophia said, back to normal once again, finally taking her eyes away from her milkshake. "And I'm not weird, I'm gifted."

"Uh-huh." Aeryn rolled her eyes as she compared Sophia's side of the room with her own. The dorm room was small, no doubt about it, but with all the stuff they had, it seemed even more cramped. Her side of the room was messy, with clothing left on her bed, and posters of various punk bands on the walls—as well as cheerleading championship ribbons.

Yeah, she used to be a cheerleader back in high school—a cheerleader who liked punk bands and hated frilly girly-girl dresses. Just like Peyton Sawyer, only she wasn't blonde.

Sophia's side, on the other hand…well, one thing you could say about it was that it was colorful. Despite the freakish neatness of her side of the room, the bedspread was a bright palette of vibrant colors. Instead of posters, she'd stuck her walls with different-colored Post-its.

Yeah, you heard that right. Post-its.

It was just Aeryn's luck that she'd gotten paired to room with a perky yet sarcastic, weirdly creative, completely random girl who had a tendency to continue on an one whenever she started to rant, liked having staring contests with her computer and was convined that Aeryn's pillow was a death-trap in disguise. Over the course of two months, she'd learned to live with it, but still…

"Hey, listen," Aeryn said, making Sophia look up in question. "I'm going to be gone for the rest of the weekend. It's my parents' anniversary tomorrow, and they want me home, so I'm leaving in about an hour, so you've got the room to yourself."

"Okay," Sophia nodded. "Yeah, I think you mentioned something about that before. Now that it'll just be me, I think I'll do a little reading for class, finish that paper for Professor Heatherton…and maybe write an essay on why milkshakes are evil."

"Uh-huh," Aeryn said, nodding. "Yeah, have fun with that." She didn't look even the least bit surprised when she heard Sophia's to-do-list, because when it came to Sophia Spencer, Aeryn Fletcher was quickly learning that it was better not to argue and just believe that anything was possible.

v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v

Sophia tossed and turned in her bed. It was late—maybe midnight, 1 am?—but she couldn't sleep. There were too many things running through her mind, too many things to remember, and too many things she couldn't forget, even if she wanted to. Damn it, even her own body wasn't cooperating.

"This is ridiculous," she groaned into the darkness, turning to her side to face the wall, deciding to use another tactic. "One sheep…two sheep…three sheep….a lamb is a young sheep…wedding menu…this isn't working," she muttered to herself, shutting her eyes tight. She would get to sleep, damn it, she didn't care how many sheep she had to count.

On second thought, maybe she should just switch to counting something else instead.

When the long-awaited yawn finally escaped her lips, she smiled happily in satisfaction, snuggling herself deeper into her bed. Finally, she thought. Now I can finally rest with nothing to stop--

What the hell?

She stilled the moment she heard the doorknob click open. The door creaked slightly as it opened, and she could hear the faint sound of footsteps shuffling across the floor. Thoughts ran through Sophia's head as she wondered who it could be. It couldn't be Aeryn, she was long gone by now. But who could…..?

This is just like one of those creepy college movies, Sophia thought, willing her heart to stop beating so fast. Roommate leaves, you're all alone in your dorm room, and during the night, some psycho ax-wielding murderer comes into your room and hacks you to bits. Gee, life, thanks a lot.

"Pretend you're sleeping," she told herself. "Don't make a sound…"

She stifled a gasp when a warm hand rested itself on her shoulder. A weight pressed onto the other side of the mattress, warm and very much alive. Suddenly, Sophia felt frozen; she cursed the fact that her mace was in her purse, which was on the table. She tried to stop her heart from racing so fast, but it only raced back up again when the person bent low and whispered in her ear, the voice decidedly masculine with just the slightest hint of a slur in it, "Hey, baby. How about a little midnight fun?"

Anger took over her initial anxiety. What on earth….did some random guy really break in here hoping to get laid? What the—oh, hell no. Sophia did a mental count in her head, "One…two…three…" and without warning, she grasped the hand that was on her shoulder and, twisting it slightly, pushed it back with such a force that the owner staggered to the floor.

She hadn't taken self-defense lessons for nothing.

"Ow," the person groaned, and Sophia smirked in satisfaction as she sat up in bed, wanting to see the sorry jerk she'd just hurt. And so, she turned her head—and for a moment, did nothing but stare.

His hair was dark and it looked almost black. Nice features from what she could see, a lean build, but she couldn't see the eyes. And yet, that didn't matter too much to her, since there were only three things that were registering in her mind as of this moment.

One, that there was a strange guy in her dorm room. Two, that he was wearing a pair of goggles. And three, a sparkly, pink tutu.

Yeah, this definitely wasn't her day.

"What--you--" Sophia tried to say, but for some reason, she couldn't form out a coherent sentence as she pointed at him; she wasn't sure whether to be freaked out or burst out laughing. They locked eyes, and she saw his mouth hang slightly open, even noticed his eyes widening a bit.

"Uh…" James Masterson said, scrambling for words as he realized just how much he'd screwed up this time. "You—you're not—you're not Meagan."

From what he could see, a look of comprehension crossed the girl's face. She'd evidently gotten over her initial shock surprisingly fast, because now, she was glaring at him, arms folded as she said, "No shit, Sherlock. Meagan Saunders lives next door."

Oh, crap.


A.N: How was that for a start? Yes, I do realize that I haven't actually talked about college that much in this chapter, but I wanted to focus on introducing Sophia first, so the college proper will probably be seen in the next few chapters. To the people who wanted Haylie and James together...uh, well, sorry about that. If you want a full explanation why I didn't pair them together, then just tell me And an advance warning to all of you: I am still a senior in high school, so my apologies if the college life I portray here isn't accurate or realistic. I've tried researching the best I can, but in this case, I guess that actual experience is key, so since I still have a year to go before getting into college, just warn me if I become too unrealistic or go too highschool-ish again.

And now, I'm going to exploit this author's note just a little bit more. I'd just like to encourage you guys to read "Him and Her" by psychoticangel92. It's a new story in fictionpress, written by me and my two other friends. It's a round-robin story--we alternate writing a chapter, and in this case, the first chapter was written by me. I think it has alot of potential, and we'd like to hear what you think of it.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully reviewing!