Fall is at its prime, trees with leaves that are interchanging from red to brown, and the air breathing its last breath before the winter takes hold.
I'm walking against the side of the road and my footsteps echo against the trees, slowly coming to the realization that I don't have a plan; I'm walking aimlessly.
The diner and that woman Layla come to mind; I'm thinking that's my best bet.
The diner has a triangular top with stringed lights sprinkling its front, the glass doors glistening high from the risen sun.
The name 'Knox Diner' lay on a wooden board that's meticulously placed above the doors, I open the door and a jingling bell announces my arrival.
The place is dead quiet with only the sound of light conversation between two older men, that sit on brown-cushioned barstools, and the whirring coffee machine.
I take a seat in one of the booths in the way back, hoping to shovel myself into some sort of safe hole, the cushion is sunken and comfortable which helps to relieve the ache in my body.
The diner is spacious with large windows, its walls are a faded cream color which bounces nicely against the, white tiled, flooring.
The sunlight streams into every crevice and illuminates the stained-glass light fixtures, that pool its colors onto the ceiling.
Footsteps bring me out of my stupor, and I see Layla carrying a glass coffee pot to fill the mug that belongs to one of the older men, her smile carries a look of safety.
Our eyes meet and a glance of familiarity crosses her face, she heads towards me.
"Hey there. What brings you back?" She gives me her undivided attention.
"I couldn't stay away from that pecan pie." I give her a light smile.
"I'm glad you like it; I've been baking it for quite some time. It's a little bit like my own secret weapon." A strand of blonde hair falls towards her brown eyes and she sweeps it back.
"My names Dean." I raise my hand out which she takes. Her fingers sing against my skin and my smile widens.
"Layla." We let go and I look down at the table. "I don't mean to pry but someone really took a beating on you, those bruises look pretty bad.
" A low chuckle escapes my lips and I'm reminded of everything, a swollen feeling fills my stomach and the air becomes stale.
"I've had worse, its nothing to worry about." I give her a look of reassurance in hopes that what I'm feeling right now doesn't cue any more suspicion.
A light nod from her says that she understands but knows that there's probably more than I'm letting on.
"I'll grab you a slice of that pie, it's on the house." I give a look of gratitude and she fills my mug about halfway before walking away.
Even the few moments that I'm alone I fight the urge to think of the encounter between my dad and I, but everything feels out of place,
the world that I had raged to maintain has become a distant life.
I've been with him since the beginning never have I been alone, he was always there to give direction and to guide when there was nothing.
Even now I feel that this is was my fault, that maybe I should've understood why he did what he did, but even that doesn't feel right.
The only thing I've ever known is hunting, it's my identity, It's the identity that I lived with under the shadow of my dad.
That's the difference between me and my brother, he understood that there was an out.
That he wasn't crafted for this kind of life like I was, for me it's all there's ever been and there was no out in my case. "Here you go, one slice of pecan pie.
" Layla sets the plate in front of me and smiles before leaving. I look down for a moment, I have nowhere to go. Finding a place is probably the first step.
I remember packing up a map, so I pull it out and unfold it in front of me, using the extra mug across the table as a paper weight.
Its bold letters, colorful straying lines, and disconcerting route numbers make it challenging to set my eyes onto one area of the map.
I'm thinking Indiana would be good, it's the next state over and there's always a case or two, staying there wouldn't be the worst idea.
All I can think to do is head back into work and figure the rest out as I go, maybe I'll team up with other hunters if I run into them along the way.
Of course, there's the issue of not having a car which I'll have to figure that out soon, but buses and trains should be good enough.
My wallet is in my back pocket that contains some stolen credit cards and a couple hundred in cash, as long as I stick to a rigorous plan and cheap motels off route I should manage okay.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot California in bold letters that seem to jump off the page and crawl up to my skin, its surrounding cities becoming a border of isolation.
That's where Sam is attending that college that he was so fond of, he's in pre-law. Probably living a pretty life in a nice little place.
Just for a moment I think that going to see him sounds like a promising idea but the more I think about the severity of the situation it becomes impossible,
he's never once contacted Dad let alone me. Not even a phone call or a voicemail, it's like he played the ultimate ghosting card and hightailed it out of dodge.
If I came to him after three years with nowhere to go and having left dad, it would just rock his boat and would end up causing even more of a tear in our already mangled relationship.
Although at the moment he's all I've got. The sentiment causes my face to contort and the thought of Sam and who we used to be makes my stomach boil over. He left.
He left me all alone, he left his family.
All to get a law degree and forget where he truly came from, Sam stomped on his origins and left me to pick up the rest, there's no way I could go to Palo Alto and ask for his help,
let alone drag him back into hunting. It's just me and that's alright for now.
It feels like a little over an hour that I sit and take small bites out of the pie and sip at my coffee absentmindedly, the sky outside has turned a dark grey,
and the main source of light comes from the ceiling lamps. I continue on and become completely absorbed and soon everything is quiet and almost placid.
"Dean?" I'm shook out of concentration and find Layla standing close to me her face openly concerned. "Are you doing alright? I don't want to bother you, but you look to be in a rough spot.
" She's almost too observant but her expression is one of understanding, and it doesn't feel like an attempt to invade my privacy,
she seems to have a natural talent at making people feel tranquil.
"It's okay, just a little concentrated I guess." My smile feels heavy and barely reaches to my eyes.
"Are you sure?" I chuckle and look back down at my map where I've circled parts of Indiana and the whole of California.
"Yes." Layla sets her coffee pot down and clambers onto the booth opposite of me, her thin gold bracelet clanking against the hard top.
She looks to me with care, her brown eyes only focusing on mine.
"Dean, it's okay.
You know there was this one day that I still remember from a couple years ago, even now it's still fresh, everything was sort of crumbling around me and every person just whirred by,
nothing was in focus.
I had no one at the time and its funny because I was sitting in a little diner just like this one, sipping my coffee, and this woman from across the way took the time to notice me.
I was a complete stranger, but she seized that moment to see clearly and her actions changed my life. Now I'm noticing you.
" Her words sink in deep and I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like her, she sits quietly and fills my coffee back up.
"Well..." I cough and shift to look at her better. I'm stuck here, I don't know if I should say anything, but in the back of my head it feels right.
I should talk, maybe not the whole truth but some truth, just enough to get by.
Sometimes giving yourself over to someone weather big or small can hurt, it can feel like that part of who you are is no longer just yours but there's too.
"Have you ever felt that the person you thought you knew was longer the person that they were? What they say, what they do, it's something that just doesn't makes sense.
It's no longer them, but you want it to work so badly that you'll sacrifice things you never knew you had to until it's over, until that person is someone you don't recognize.
" She's gently grazing over her gold bracelet and looking out the window with a tentative stare. A second passes before she's with me again.
"Sometimes people become who they didn't want to be, but it's who they're meant to be, and that's not on you." I take a drink from my coffee while contemplating what she said.
"The question is, do you have someone that you recognize? Someone you can see clear as day?"
"I'd like to think so, but he's gone. Everything is different." She nods in understanding.
"Is this person important?"
"He's my brother."
"From what I've learned it's crucial to chase what you know and as long as you do that, you'll always find what you're looking for.
" She touches my hand from across the table and gives me a wide smile, my whole body is warm and in tune with her.
Before I can even get a word out, she takes her coffee pot and saunters off to the back of the diner.
I'm left with her words invading every corner of my head, their impact clearing a path for a conclusive decision to be made. I circle California again and pack my things into my duffel.
Before leaving, I go to Layla and stand at a distance, she has her back turned as she's filling salt shakers.
"Layla?" She turns towards me and sweeps a loose hair from the front of her face.
Without thinking I wrap my arms firm around her and tuck my head down the crevice of her neck, I feel her warm hands land onto my shoulder blades. "Thanks.
" I'm the first to let go, her arms are loose at her sides before she lightly grazes my cheek in affection. Her eyes are alive and pondering.
"Take care of yourself Dean." For the first time today, I feel like I can breathe. It's time to go.