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Peter and Dante started preschool together, and they’d been best friends since. They learned to ride a bike on the same day. They built tree houses and buried forts. Any book Peter read, he leant to Dante, and Dante did the same, although Peter leaned toward history and biographies, while Dante mostly read horror and true crime.

They’d walked to school together for ten years. Peter would sling his backpack over his shoulder, cross the street, and then walk two blocks to get to Dante’s house. He’d stand on the sidewalk until Dante bounded out, grinning, ready to tell a joke. Peter remembered the day that Dante had looked at him, full of concern. It might have been when they were in second grade. “Your epidermis is showing,” he’d said. Peter glanced down at his zipper, embarrassed, which set Dante to laughing. “Epidermis is your skin, you goof. Everyone’s epidermis is showing.”

They trick-or-treated together in the fall, and signed up for the same swimming lessons in the spring. They joined T-ball on the same team and played long games of one-on-one basketball on Peter’s driveway.

Both were tall for their age and slender. Dante’s blond hair framed a face that smiled often, and dark eyes that laughed seldom. Peter kept his red hair short, and was the more serious of the two, although Dante could make him laugh.

They synced their first smart phones when they were twelve so they’d know where the other was. A month into 6th grade, Peter caught bronchitis and missed two weeks of school. He’d taken comfort in watching the dot on the map that represented Dante’s position. Peter could see when he switched classes. He saw when he went to lunch, and he knew when Dante was walking toward his house to bring him homework and share the day’s news.

Until last year, they talked about the same movies, complained about the same classes, liked long, philosophical discussions about the same topics. Peter was the better student, while Dante was more athletic, although he didn’t play sports for the high school.

Lately, though, Peter found himself looking at this best friend with surprise. Dante argued more. He wanted to go places that didn’t interest Peter. He hung out with kids Peter didn’t know. Sometimes Peter wondered what happened. Maybe an alien replaced him with an exact duplicate. Did I hurt his feelings? There were times when he felt like they were on slick ice, sliding apart.

Two months earlier, Peter had waited on the sidewalk in front of Dante’s house for ten minutes before he went to the door and knocked. Dante opened the door, wearing an old T-shirt and sweatpants. His eyes were bloodshot. “Not going to school today,” he’d said. “A little too much of Dad’s Johnny Walker last night.” Dante started drinking on the sly months ago, but he hadn’t confronted Peter with the evidence so clearly before. Peter turned the significance of that news over and over as he walked the rest of the way to school. He remembered when they’d agreed a couple of years past that they would never do something stupid, like drink or smoke or do drugs.

A year ago, Peter would have shared his discoveries with Dante without a thought. They moved like a pair of birds linked with a silver strand, but a year is a long time when you have just entered your teens. In a year, Dante faded a little, became fuzzy in Peter’s mind, and when Peter looked at him, he didn’t quite see his own reflection. They hadn’t walked to school together since that morning.

So Peter carried the heavy duffle bag home, hid it under his bed, and put the gun in a backpack to meet Dante.

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