She considers it part of her job to like the students in her class. So it's difficult for her when the occasional student comes along that she doesn't like. Billy is just such a kid. She has a certain special place in her heart for kids who do well academically, or who are socially awkward, or naughty, or average, or sporty, or bookish, or like digging in the dirt, or like it quiet. She likes a huge variety of kids. The one thing she has trouble with is when a kid is mean. Even bullies, she can usually find good in since they're usually themselves bullied and generally have their kind moments. Bullies tend to be passionate.
She believes her husband may have had bully-moments, before he met her. When she met him, she'd sensed a cloud of past unspokeness about him. And it wasn't just because he wasn't from Belfry.
Folks who live in a town as small as Belfry, Montana are naturally, shall we say, curious about newcomers. So when Jack showed up in town, looking for work as a ranch hand or in a kitchen, there was naturally talk. He got work at the ranch where she lived. It was her uncle's ranch and she'd always enjoyed ranch life. Her father had sold his ranch and moved across the border to Wyoming which had hurt her soul. She understood, but it was hard. When you grow up on a ranch, you have a relationship with the land. It was hard to see her father part with that relationship. Harder still for her to part with it herself. But she'd become a school teacher and couldn't persuade anyone that she should be something different so she moved to her uncle's ranch to be close to some land. Family land of some kind was better than any alternative she could think of.
Jack wandered into town quietly asking for whatever work he could get. Since her cousins had all moved to Billings, her uncle decided to give Jack a shot and taught him to labor. Taught him how to oil sadles, and drive cattle. And Jack baked bread for them and snuck into the fabric of their lives.
She would leave each day, teach in her one room school house (it wasn't literally but there were only about 80 students total K-12 so it was close.) Then she'd return home in the evenings to her uncle Tom and Jack drinking beers on the porch. They'd greet her with a tip of their hats as she walked up and it became routine.
Billy's another story. She can't find a good routine with him. One day he's on track and doing what he's supposed to and she can tolerate him. While the next, he's tormenting poor Austin (a visually impaired boy who can't read or write at age 12.) Billy doesn't care that he's mean. He doesn't care about anything but Billy and what makes Billy laugh. And so she has trouble liking him. She's never had trouble being kind to students before Billy because she's always genuinely cared about them and had things that she loved about them to tide her over any challenging stint. But she doesn't like Billy.
Jack helps. He distracts her. He doesn't say much but listens well to her daily school stories. Today, Dustin has shaved his eyebrows off and tells her that he "had an accident" with his mom's razor. When she asks him if the accident was shaving his eyebrow, he nods meekly and she narrowly holds her laugh in.
She must talk more about Billy than she realizes because when she finally admits to disliking him one day, Jack offers a suggestion. He says to have Billy come out to the ranch and work. Give him some assignments if she needs to but just have him spend a week or two working with the men and see if that doesn't help. She disregards this idea's impossibility at first. But several weeks later, when she still hasn't come up with anything and feels like she may do worse than simply verbally berate this child, she decides to go for the long shot. She calls his parents and admits she's struggling with Billy in her classroom and offers the suggestion that they do something out of the ordinary and see if it helps.
His parents are so used to teachers out and out hating their child (they sometimes do themselves,) that they'll sign any form she wants, take any solution she proffers and run with it.
This is how she fell in love with Jack.
He doesn't think that she knows about the dancing, but she does. She genuinely doesn't know every time, but she's woken in the night to pee and found him missing enough times that she knows. He's too loyal to cheat; that never enters her imagination. She adores the part of him that lets loose his movement. She's only caught a glimpse once and felt like she'd interrupted divine lovers or spoiled some intimacy between them such that she never dares peek again. Instead, she feigns ignorance and allows him extra rest if it seems like he's been gone more nights than usual.
But tonight she is afraid. They are on vacation. The territory's unfamiliar. But that's not it. Not really. She just feels unsettled in his absence. She sits up, turns on the light, and tries to read. But it's no use. She's too distracted to do anything but run her eyes over line after line without digesting any story. She shuts the book and paces, wondering what to do.
And when the sun comes up, he's still not home.