RUTH HAD AFFECTIONATLEY GIVEN them the nickname "the herd." They were most of the upper-classmen girls. Most of them frequently went out partying and drinking, each of them almost constantly had a boyfriend (they never went more than a week between breaking up and finding a new mate) and they flourished on gossip. While most of the girls were very nice and good friends with Ruth, she couldn't stand them when they got into groups, because then they seemed to turn into stereotypical dumb girls.

Now, as Ruth walked past them in the hallway, they were going through the dramas that were typical of the herd. A blonde who sat behind her in chemistry was crying. "How could he dump me?" she cried. "I loved him! I had our wedding all planned out! We were going to have twins!"

Two other girls were standing in front of someone's locker, spreading gossip. "Did you hear about Tia?" one of them asked. "Now, this is only a story, but you know how she hasn't been coming to school? I hear that she's pregnant, and she's transferring to Washington so nobody finds out."

Ruth rolled her eyes and arrived at her locker. Her two best friends (who were not part of the herd) were waiting for her. There was Helen, who was breath-takingly beautiful and yet didn't have a boyfriend, and the pessimistic Cassandra, who everyone called Cassie for short.

While Ruth entered her combination, she complained, "Am I the only person left on this planet who doesn't believe in premarital sex? For crying out loud, what happened to good Christian morals?"

"I don't have sex," said Cassie, and Helen nodded, showing that she didn't, either. "Don't let the herd get you down," she continued. "Most of them are just pretending not to be virgins so they fit in with everyone else."

"Yeah, right," Ruth said disbelievingly. Like anyone would lie and purposely give themselves the reputations of a slut. Then again, most of the girls who claimed to have sex didn't end up with bad reputations. Most of them ended up with prom dates. Nevertheless, Ruth still didn't believe Cassie's theory.

"I'm really nervous, you guys," she said as the strolled down the hall toward the math room. "I didn't study for our English test, and I hear that this is going to be a big one!" The class most of the school knew as English wasn't strictly an English class. They didn't diagram sentences or learn the parts of speech or try to expand their vocabulary. It was actually a college level literature class in which they read well-known stories and poems, then took tests over them. It was known as English among the students because it was taught by the Sophomore English teacher.

"Don't worry," Helen said. "You'll do fine. Charles says that the test is just over basic stories, like Hercules and Persephone and things. You don't even have to remember little details, you just need to know who did what things." Charles was Helen's older brother, and he'd taken the same class three years earlier when he'd still been in high school.

"Don't worry about it," Cassie added. "You'll probably miss one or two, because it's practically impossible to get a perfect score, but the worst you'll end up with is an A minus. I know you'll do fine."

Somehow, even though her friends were quite confident in her, Ruth didn't feel reassured. "I think I'll study during math," she said, disappearing into the classroom so she could get some quick work done before the bell rang and the herd filtered into the room to disturb her quiet studying.

AFTER FINISHING HER ANCIENT Greek mythology exam in literature, Ruth felt as if all the knowledge had been drained from her head. "Why didn't he warn us that this would be the test from Hell?" she whined. "Or was it the test from Hades? I can't even separate the Greek stuff from the real stuff!"

"You did fine," Cassie insisted. "You're a smart girl, you probably got an A or so, like I said before. I, on the other hand, did really badly. I wouldn't be surprised if the best I did was a C."

"Come on!" cried Helen. "Don't talk like that. Just remember the power of positive thinking! You too, Ruth. Sure, that was a hard test, but I have confidence that I did well, and I'm sure that you both did well, too." The herd was approaching from down the hall, so the girls split up to head for their personal lockers.

Helen and Cassie both grabbed bags full of clothes and shoes to change into for basketball practice. Ruth, who didn't participate in sports, grabbed her book bag and prepared to head home. "See you tomorrow!" she called, pulling her book bag over her shoulder.

"Bye!" called both Helen and Cassie at the same time. Ruth smiled and began to fight through the herd. One of the most annoying things about them was that they moved so slowly. If they just wanted to stand and talk, they could at least do it somewhere than in the middle of the hall.

After she fought her way out the door, she had to try to avoid being hit by the maniacs in the parking lot and the drag racers on the one road outside the school. Ruth was more than relieved when she finally got home. She pulled her book bag out of the backseat of her car, and started to approach her home, when she noticed a strange figure standing in the front lawn.

Ruth really wasn't much for "checking out" boys as soon as she met them, but she had to admit, this boy was good-looking. He looked like he was a few years older than she, and he had curly golden hair, and when he saw her, he flashed a winning smile. "Hello, Ruth," he said.

There was nothing unusual about the fact that he new her name, Ruth assumed that this handsome boy was a friend of her parents. "Hi," she replied with a shy little smile. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't know who you are. What's your name?"

The boy smiled a mysterious smile and said, "I'm Zeus."