Okubo sits in front of the fuchsite green ocean in a linen button-up. There is a serenity on his face that’s almost mannequin-esque, his features still and unmoving. His eyes don’t even seem to stray from some fixed point on the effervescent sea foam that crashes against the cliffs, eroding at it over time.
His bare heels dig into the wet sand. It’s gloomy overhead, the sky crowded with bunched, grey clouds, but Okubo doesn’t mind the wind that tosses his strands of greasy, ink-dark hair across his face. Yagami keeps spitting out thrown streams of sand that catch in his lips in the pre-tumultuous weather, but he won’t ask Okubo to leave anytime soon.
“What’s with that outfit?” Kaito asked, walking into the office that morning with a can of Boss Coffee.
“You don’t like it?” Yagami tugged at his tacky Hawaiian shirt, a red one patterned with white hibiscus flowers. He grinned crookedly and took the cold coffee from Kaito, drinking after him, “I’m going to Okinawa.”
“You didn’t tell me?”
“I just did.”
“I want to go!”
Yagami shook his head and shifted his backpack. It was indicative of a short trip. “Not this time, Kaito-san. I’m going with Okubo.”
Yagami sits beside Okubo, watching him watch the sea, and he wraps his arms around his knees, “I’m sorry about the weather. I thought it’d be sunny.”
Okubo finally drags himself out of whatever reverie he’s in and looks at Yagami with dry eyes for once. He looks so serene, so unburdened. It calms Yagami, who gives him a soft, apologetic upturn of his lips. It’s relaxing to see Okubo without the tremulous fear on his face, that perpetual anticipation of bad news. He’s actually pretty cute, when he’s not on the verge of tears. He has a handsome, upturned nose, and full, rose petal lips. His skin isn’t aged from worry the way he expected it to be, still smooth save for divots of wrinkles between his straight, dark eyebrows. He has big eyes, and they look so much healthier without that yellowish film of exhaustion, without tear-clumped eyelashes. Being out of prison has given him a warmish glow. He looks less sickly than he did at the trial, at the horrible in-between years of lost life.
With the way Okubo sits back on his palms and stretches his legs out languidly, the cold Pacific lapping at his feet, you’d hardly guess what he’s dealt with. Yagami sighs and picks up a whole seashell, opalescent on the inside. He drags his thumb over the smooth surface.
“You’re stronger than me.”
Okubo looks at him with a tilted head.
“I’d be so much more vindictive if I were you. At the world. At me, even.”
Okubo’s blink is slow, cat-like and affectionate, “It’s hard to be vindictive whenever you’re relieved. I’m happy that everyone sees what I’ve always known. Reality is validating. Whenever there’s cohesion among humans, I guess there’s also security.”
Yagami swallows, looking at the ocean. He wants to keep Okubo away from that cliffside overlook.
“Did you ever doubt yourself?”
Okubo shakes his head, “I never let my reality slip. If perception is reality, then I couldn’t let my mind allow itself to match my accusers. I’ve always known my own truth. If I didn’t believe myself, no one would. I always held out hope. Always.”
Yagami sets the shell on his own knee. Okubo continues.
“Not just in myself, but in you. If I believed myself, I thought you would too. And then you did. What if I had failed to? Maybe you wouldn’t have come back, three years later, and told me what you did. I—You’re one of the only people I had left to count on.”
Yagami shoves his shoulder lightly, blinking, “Stop it. You’re gonna make me cry.”
Okubo grins then—a real smile. Yagami notes his big, white teeth, very clean looking and strong.
“It wasn’t easy though. You know, while I always believed myself, I wondered if the belief itself was a symptom of psychosis. Although I never thought I killed Emi, I thought that maybe I was living in some separate world, or something. The way a crazy person sees a terrifying image; it’s real to them, but it can’t be confirmed by anyone else. But the crazy person still saw it, and so it exists, even if it isn’t tangible. My innocence might have been my ‘image’ of sorts… Does that make any sense?”
Yagami nods, frowning up at a sky turning evening dark, violet like a bruise. Behind them, on the isolated street in front of a smattering of small homes, a truck slowly rolls by. The headlights make a halo of gold settle behind Okubo’s hair, just for a second.
Then it passes.
“I know what it’s like to feel like you’re slipping, like you’re in some fissure of the real world where you keep talking to people, but no one speaks your language anymore.”
Flopping on the couch with a pout, looking like an oversized toddler on the verge of a tantrum, Kaito whined, “Why can’t I go? Just because Okubo invited you doesn’t mean—”
“He tried to kill himself, Kaito.”
Kaito’s face immediately softened, the frown shattering like glass.
“Are you serious?”
Yagami sat beside him and slouched as if in defeat, forearms resting over his knees. “These dumbass filmographers wanted to do a documentary on the case. He accepted, but during an interview, they started grilling him about the incident where he broke Emi’s finger. They kept insinuating he was an abuser, that even if Shono hadn’t killed Emi, that Okubo would have inevitably, given his ‘violent past.’ I can’t imagine what he was feeling like. Absolved of all crimes. Innocent beyond all measures. And people still telling him he hated his girlfriend enough to murder her. To his face. They’re scum.”
“So he tried to kill himself?”
“Well, I don’t know if it was intentional, but finding him with a belly full of sleeping pills after a bad day of pseudo-accusations—all over again—surely doesn’t seem coincidental, or accidental. I’m sure he felt—”
“The same as he did in the police station,” Kaito exhaled a breath, shaking his head slow and emphatic.
“Right. Or at trial. Well, when I got called about it, the nurse said he wanted to see me. So I went. He, uh… He said he wanted to see the beach. That he hadn’t been out of a metropolitan prison for years.”
“Give him my regards, Yagami. You’re a good guy, taking him to Okinawa.”
Yagami waved it off. But his ego swelled.
The air begins to smell cool, like rain and salt. It’s a fitting scent for Okubo, Yagami thinks.
“I wish Sugiura could have come with us,” Yagami says, lifting the seashell and placing it on Okubo’s knee.
“Me too. I like him.”
A fat droplet of rain splatters on Okubo’s forehead, and he looks heavenward, blinking a little. The rain begins falling, and they’re without cover, but Yagami doesn’t mind. It relinquishes them from the humidity of a late September day.
“Maybe I’ll move out here,” Okubo suggests. The thought doesn’t sit well with Yagami. Okubo is already of the precipice of suicide, and the idea of him being so close to an ocean, with no one he knows nearby, makes him think of the poor guy throwing himself off that eroding cliff someday. Sugiura’s the one who found him passed out in the apartment, who got him medical attention. He can’t even place a hospital in this remote vicinity of an island.
But an escape from Kamurocho, where people know his name and face, and finding a place to start anew—he gets it. Okubo’s white leg tucks itself against his chest. Sand coats it like sugar. His white shirt is becoming transparent, sitting over his prominent ribcage, giving him the washed-up look of a drowned ghost.
“You like the ocean a lot, huh?”
“Yeah. Emi did too.”
Yagami doesn’t ask him for a story, or a memory, or a dream. He just watches the grey sea ripple with rainwater and feels his shirt stick to his skin, his hair slick across his forehead, his scalp dampening in the downpour.
Maybe tomorrow they can go surfing.
Okubo rests his head on Yagami’s shoulder and watches the tide roll in.