For the Sake of the Weather

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story where a local takes a newcomer under their wing.... view prompt

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Contemporary Friendship Fiction

The driest part of the year had come. Every individual ray from the sun was felt fully by the townsfolk, leaving their faces pink and their hair slick with sweat. 

Those who had lived in Brenton for some time had learned to adjust when the dry season came. During cooler months, it wasn't easy to tell who was who, but when the kid in black leggings and a sweatshirt clamored into the store, it was clear he wasn't a local. 

Krissi jumped at the ruckus, looking up from her book to find a boy clutching onto the chip rack and swaying horribly. She pursed her lips then spoke up, "You ok there, boy?" she asked.

He turned to her slowly, dark skin covered in fresh condensation and sweatshirt soaked through. "Um," he slurred, eyes lidded and slack, "My... everything feels heavy," He gestured vaguely, "Really," he began but was cut off as his face collided with the floor. 

Krissi puffed out a breath and moved around the counter. She was already dialing 911, turning the boy over onto his back and wiping the sweat from his face. His forehead was scalding hot, and his breathing was ragged. "Yes, this is Krissi," the boy released another shaky breath. His eyes were open but unfocused. "It happened again, yeah, get here quick then,"


Kenneth saw that the convenience store was only 1.7 miles away on google maps and decided to jog there at around 9. With the sun barely out, he hadn't expected everything to heat up so fast.

Now his mom was yelling at him.

"You really thought you could just run out in this heat?" she asked, grasping his wrist. Kenneth met her face, a mirror image of his own save for his nose, which he shared with his dad.

"M'sorry," he said for the umpteenth time. His mom shook her head and gestured to the half-full bottle of Gatorade. "Gone ahead and finish that. We're not leaving until you drink that and the other one." her voice was firm. His dad nodded along with her. 

Kenneth sighed and reached for the bottle, ignoring how his mom's hands shook. 

"Heat stroke really is a thing," he mused on their way home, then giggled. It was all surreal; moving to such a hot and rural place made him feel like he was in some old western. Cranky, wooden buildings with chipped paint whizzed by the car window. He looked at them and then at his reflection before tipping an imaginary hat. "Howdy do," he whispered. 


The bell on the door to Krissi's shop used to ring clearly some fifteen years ago. Now, if she ever had business in the back room, she had to strain and listen to its pathetic dull tinkle. 

She set down her glasses, frowning down at the bank statements and straightening her blouse. The ancient hinges on the freezer squealed as someone opened it to look at the ice cream selection.

"Ah," Krissi moved to the counter, looking at the boy as he dug through the contents of the freezer. He stood back up after producing a freezer-burned popsicle and turned to meet Krissi's eyes.

"Ah?" he mimicked, then smiled and walked towards the counter.

Krissi wiped the frost from the bar code and scanned it, "$1.74-" "Thank you, by the way," the boy cut her off.

Krissi blinked, then nodded, "Mhm," she said, taking the 5-dollar bill from his hand. He clicked his tongue as she rummaged through the scarce register for change. They were always short on ones. 

She dropped the crinkled bills and rusted coins into the kid's hand and set the popsicle on the counter. He stuffed the change into his jean pockets; the poor kid really wasn't used to hot weather. 

Krissi waited for him to leave, picking up her book where it sat on the far end of the counter and turning to where she left off. The rusty bell never rang, though, so she looked back up. The kid was still there, looking down at the name tag on Krissi's collar. 

"Krissi?" he tried, and she nodded.

"Cool," he said, moving the popsicle to his right hand before offering his left, "I'm Kenneth," he smiled warmly.

Krissi gave him a blank look but leaned forward and took the boy, Kenneth's, hand anyway. "Thanks again," he said over his shoulder as he left. Krissi sighed and returned to her book.

She really didn't like small talk. 


He came in again a few days later with two other kids she'd seen around town. He put four soda cans on the counter and pulled a ten out of his pocket. Krissi rang them up and bagged them, but Kenneth took one out and set it back on the counter before wordlessly leaving with his new friends. Krissi stared down at the soda can; Dr. Pepepr was her favorite. She tucked a few strands of grey and blond behind her ear and took a sip of cold soda while the sun rose higher for noon. 

Every time Kenneth returned to Krissi's shop, he seemed to bring more and more friends in with him. Krissi guessed it made sense judging by how they all hovered around him, clapping him on the back and shoving him playfully. Despite all of the people, he always took time to thank her after she scanned his items and gave him his change. Every now and again, he'd bombard her with outlandish questions and statements. 

"So, you got a shotgun under there or something, can I see?" Krissi never looked up from her book.

"I've seen like 5 guys around here with cowboy hats--you know where I could buy one? Or five?" Krissi wrote the name of a western apparel shop on a receipt.

"All I'm saying is that if we refurbished those ghost town buildings on Talford street, it'd be a bomb-ass tourist attraction. They don't have that kind of thing where I'm from-" Krissi put in a word about that suggestion at the weekly town hall meeting.

Krissi was told by her peers that she wasn't a good conversationalist, but she did know how to listen. She slowly learned things about Kenneth. She learned that he was from Wisconsin and that he liked running and warm weather and western movies. He was social, magnetic, and always insisted on paying. 

Likewise, Kenneth learned things about Krissi. She'd run the corner store for longer than he'd been alive, and she was a widow. She liked long prosy books (he'd tried to read one and didn't make it past the fifth page) and Dr. Pepper, but hated coke with a deep, fiery passion. 

Their conversations started short, but Kenneth would ask her questions about the town or herself, and he looked so curious she couldn't just blow him off. Then as the sun moved further across the sky, Krissi would tell Kenneth that she had work to do. He'd leave with a grin before linking up with his friends outside.


Kenneth came in one day with only one other kid, a boy with tawny eyes and red hair. He lived next door to Krissi, and she'd silently watched him grow over the years. Kenneth's usual charisma seemed gone, and Krissi listened carefully as he tumbled over his words while they talked.

Then the red-haired boy looked down at his phone and gave Kenneth an apologetic smile before running out of the store into the mellow September heat. Krissi gave Kenneth a knowing look that he resolutely ignored, but then he leaned back against the counter and sighed.

The question was simple "What should I do?" he asked quietly.

Krissi pondered, "Do what you've been doing. The boy is already smitten," she said.

Kenneth whipped his head around, eyes wide "You think so?" he asked. Krissi smirked and shook her head.

"Yes, boy. Anyone with eyes could see. Give it time."

She chucked as Kenneth put his head in his hands and groaned.


Fall in Brenton wasn't all that colorful or cool, but that seemed to make the townsfolk love the season even more. Blue and green t-shirts were swapped out for red and orange. Iced pumpkin spice lattes and cold cider served as a balm to the fall sun. 

It was the only time of year Krissi sold candy in large quantities. She set a few pumpkins outside next to the door and strung up cheap ghost lights. She was never one to celebrate holidays, but for the sake of her business, she played along in the festivities. 

"I know you didn't run up here again, boy," Krissi said as Kenneth walked in, wheezing audibly. He shook his head, "Nah," and put his hands on his waist. "I didn't run. I walked from the school, s'not that far," he rasped.

The school wasn't far, but that only made Krissi more concerned. It was a straight shot, with no steep sidewalks or uneven paths. She watched as Kenneth opened the refrigerator door and made a noise of disapproval when he reached for a soda. He sighed and grabbed a water bottle instead. 

She never saw him run again after that.


With her husband gone, Krissi spent her holiday season cooped up in her house with a bottle of good wine. When Kenneth heard this, he shook his head and insisted on her spending Thanksgiving with him and his family. "It's not gonna be a lot of people there, plus I've been meaning for you to try this pecan pie recipe I've been working on," he said and went on and on until Krissi gave in. 

Everything in his house was warm in a way Krissi couldn't put her finger on. The scent of cinnamon and nutmeg hit her nose when she walked through the door; Kenneth showed her to the dining room.

She pursed her lips, then spoke up. "I um, wouldn't mind helping out with dinner actually. If that's ok,"

She was put on vegetable duty and given a small mountain of okra to cut up. Kenneth, his parents, and a few others Krissi didn't know moved around the kitchen in an organized hurricane of motion. She watched as they swapped dishes, taste-tested, and argued about which seasoning worked best, and whether or not they should braise with red or white wine. Krissi realized she didn't know anything about cooking.

Despite this, in no time she had a pile of evenly sliced okra piled high in a bowl. It was scooped up and thrown in a frying pan before she could blink. 

They all sat at a long table, and she watched as the piping hot dishes were set down until there was barely enough room for their plates. Kenneth squeezed past a few people to take his place next to Krissi. Before eating, they all joined hands while his dad prayed, and then they did the rounds. 

"I'm just thankful to be here in this town, and that you," Kenneth turned to Krissi when it was his turn, "Were there in the store when I was stupid enough to go for a run in 102-degree weather." he grinned; Krissi squeezed his hand. She watched tears brim over his mom's eyes, her lip trembling. 

"I'm thankful I was able to save you from your stupidity that day," she said. Soft laughter buzzed around the table. Then they sat and ate while talking about embarrassing stories and trifles. The sun began to dip lower in the sky, and Krissi wanted to be home before dark.

Before she left, Kenneth pushed a plate of leftovers into her arms, "I took your advice, by the way," he said.

"He and I are kinda..." he gave her an expectant look, waiting for her to fill in the blank.

Krissi patted his shoulder, "Told you all it took was a little bit of time." she laughed, adjusting her bag and the plate in her hands.

"You oughta eat some more of that food you have in there, boy. I don't want you getting scrawny on me."

Kenneth nodded tightly before stepping out to walk Krissi back to her car. 


"I don't think I've ever told you how much I hate the cold," Kenneth spoke to Krissi once, gripping a paper cup of warm cider in his hand. He'd come in with his boyfriend wearing a light jacket, the heaviest winter clothing got in Brenton. The three of them conversed around the counter, wincing every time someone opened the door and let cold air slip in.

"God, winter in general is just awful," Kenneth continued, sipping from the cider. It was cooling down faster than it should because of the inconsistent heating in the store. A bitter expression crossed his features that Krissi hadn't ever seen before. She wasn't sure if it was that or his face in general that made his features look so sunken. His boyfriend clutched his arm, and the expression resolved into a tired smile. "Spring is better," he stated. "Everything is alive and colorful and warm; it's my favorite season, even though I have allergies." Krissi hummed thoughtfully. 

She watched as the two left, hunched over as chilly wind swept through the air outside. They leaned into each other for warmth, clinging to what little they could share.


The denial slipped away when Kenneth stopped coming to the store as often as he used to. Christmas and New Years passed quietly like a whisper, giving way to the dreariness of January. Krissi chanced closing her shop early and driving down to Kenneth's house.

A single light shone through the curtains on the bottom floor, and someone's silhouette moved back and forth. Krissi knocked on the door and waited a few moments before it opened. Her heart shuddered at what she saw, and she tried not to gasp.

Kenneth stood before her, gaunt and willowy. He smiled and moved to let her inside.

"Hey, Krissi,"

They moved to the kitchen, "Sorry I haven't been around. I've been uh..." he trailed off, and Krissi let the tears fall. She met his eyes, pained and scared.

"What..." she asked quietly, and Kenneth pulled out a chair at the kitchen table for her.

Krissi listened, and Kenneth explained. He spoke through short, dry coughs, gesturing with his now bony hands as he described what was happening to his body. He talked about motor function, and respiratory failure, and the prognosis he'd gotten in March of the previous year. 

"Mom said that anything I wanted, I could have," he spoke, moving his hand up and down Krissi's shaking back.

"And really, all I wanted was to be away from the damn cold," he smiled softly. Krissi heaved a breath and sat up, and Kenneth watched quietly as she gathered her thoughts.

"How long?" she asked, and Kenneth sighed.

"M'not sure, a few months probably." The oven beeped, and Kenneth stood up to put a small dish inside. He turned back around.

"Hopefully, I can see what spring looks like around here before I, you know," he waved his hands in some vague gesture.

Krissi wondered how a 17-year-old boy could speak so flippantly about his own incoming death. It wasn't right.

She heaved again, and Kenneth was back at her side.


From that day onward, Krissi saw Kenneth as much as her schedule would allow. His boyfriend was there more often than not too, and Krissi silently admired how strong he was. Kenneth wasn't all that capable of doing overly physical activities, so he resigned himself to the kitchen among his parent's cookbooks and utensils. The spice of a new dish always wafted towards Krissi's nose when she walked inside.

"Even though it's dumb," he said over the stove, "I applied to the CIA a few months ago," his boyfriend squawked as he burned himself on the baked potato stew.

Kenneth laughed, "CIA as in the culinary school, not the intelligence agency," he clarified as he caught his breath.

They all giggled again, then cried, and Krissi wished the moment would last forever.


The ravaging of Kenneth's body was almost unbearable to watch as time went on. There was no sign of spring yet even though it was early March, and Kenneth couldn't use his legs anymore. More people started visiting after that, friends from school, teachers, neighbors, and others. Everyone cried and sobbed, but Kenneth only smiled and told them quietly but firmly to stop. 

"I'm happy," Krissi had overheard him repeat to his parents to soothe their anguish. "I've never been happier; I'm happy," he repeated.

It was when the heat-strong flowers around Brenton started to bud that Kenneth ended up in the ICU. Krissi closed her shop as soon as she got the call, speeding down to the same hospital she'd called some 10 months ago.

He didn't speak as she knelt by his side with his mom and his boyfriend. "They're gonna be moving me to hospice in a bit," he finally said after a while. Krissi swallowed and grasped his hand, feeling how it shook. She looked him straight in the eyes and exhaled shakily.

"It's ok, Kenneth," she told him, "It's ok to be scared. We don't need you to be strong for our sake," she said. His mom nodded in agreement. The smile he'd worn around them for so long fell, and he let himself go in a mess of tears. 

In hospice, they all gathered around his laptop as he opened his emails, hands wracked with tremors. They all jumped for joy at the word "Congratulations" in the subject line. Kenneth laughed softly too as they all settled down. 

"That's messed the heck up that I got in," he sighed, and his shoulders sagged.

It would only be a few more hours before the first day of spring.

September 24, 2022 03:06

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1 comment

Lily Finch
21:55 Sep 28, 2022

Hi Ayanna, I like your story albeit sad. Kenneth sounded like a great guy who unfortunately was diagnosed with a fatal illness. I liked Krissi as a character. Great job. My suggestions are: to forget writing in the past perfect when you can. quotes should be alone in their own spaces (at the beginning) was that for effect? clamoured always read your story out loud to yourself It's like the first half was written so differently than the last half. LF6


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