The line buzzes five times before she picks up and for a moment Jiyong thinks he's lost her.
"Hello?" Chaerin is alert, awake. It's got to be mid afternoon in Los Angeles and she's probably been up since six. People to see, things to do. Or so she'd say if he had it in him to ask what she's been up to since they last spoke. In his mind's eye she' spends hours standing at the window, looking out to sea.
It's what he would do in her position, but if he were in her position he'd see his own bed on a weekly basis and buy concealer by the gallon to cover up his exhaustion. Chaerin's not like that, she won't let herself be. Jiyong once fell through the door at nine in the morning to find her rising from the sofa, strung out and looking like death warmed over but still chastising herself for sleeping in.
"Hey," he mumbles into the receiver and his voice nearly cracks.
It takes a moment for her reply to come through and that could just be the distance between them. The signal slow to relay. "Jiyong? Oh my God! How are you?"
"Yeah I...I got a new phone." He could kick himself, he hadn't told her. "I'm in London."
"Nice. For the tour?"
"I love London. It's so pretty in the rain."
Jiyong looks up through the floor to ceiling windows of his hotel room and he can see the moon hanging over his head. "It's not raining. Weather's been great since I landed."
"The best," he grins. "The place was packed tonight. Birmingham wasn't full but you wouldn't have known it, the way they were cheering."
"It's a European thing," Chaerin's smiling, he can hear it in the sharp ends of her consonants. "They don't get much from us so when we're in town they make it count."
Jiyong bites his bottom lip, nods even though she can't see him. He thinks about all the stages she will never grace, he can see a future she more or less stole from herself.
"So what's this all about?"
"What?" He blinks.
"The call, dummy. We barely got to talk in Seou and it's been months since I heard a peep out of you otherwise so don't expect me to believe whatever lie you're cooking up about how you just wanted to talk."
"What? I can't want to shoot the shit with one of my oldest friends?" Jiyong laughs.
Chaerin stutters, shuddering to a halt. Maybe her smile is sadder than it looks in his head. "Oldest friends. Right."
"I mean, who else do we have?"
The lights of the city wink up at him, a perfect mimicry of a yellow ocean stretching to the rafters. Sometimes it feels so close that he could gather it into his chest and let the light surround and smother him. He likes the idea of that, taking a love too far removed to be as genuine as it wishes and turning it into something real.
Chaerin's always been more cynical than him, biting back sarcasm when she has to gush over how much she loves her fans. Jiyong wishes she could mean it. It's so wonderful to share in something that much bigger than yourself.
She likes the drip of nihilism in his voice though, laughing with unrestrained bite. "True. Children of the industry gotta stick together."
"You said it."
"You heard from Seunghyun recently?"
Jiyong frowns, "which one?"
"Little Seunghyun's decided to become a business tycoon. He won't shut up about how he doesn't have time for anything else so I'm expecting him to drop an album on us any week now. Big Seunghyun..." Jiyong trails off, thinking about sullen eyes fixed to the boardroom table while nameless men in suits discussed falling stock prices and bad publicity.
"He'll be OK." Chaerin says, like saying it makes it true. "Right?"
Jiyong has been waiting for Seunghyun to be OK wince they were teenagers. He's no longer sure it's a state his friend is capable of. "Yeah."
"That's the spirit," Chaerin says. "You know, when he gets out the two of you should come visit me. Hell, bring all the old guard out. Remember when YG actually felt kinda like a family?"
"Yeah." Jiyong wishes he had anything more intelligent to say. His childhood memories are mostly tough but fair tutors barking orders at him and annual holidays that were justified as business expenses provided they came home with material for a music video. He hasn't spoken to Hyunsuk outside of work for over a year now, he doesn't think he could begin to broach the subject of what the company has become. "I'm going into the military next year."
That still doesn't feel real.
"Of course you are!" He can hear Chaerin slap herself in the forehead. "Shit. You better make it out here sooner then. When are you done with the tour?"
"Soon. A couple of weeks."
"You better be on the next flight to LA once you're done."
"Yeah, of course. We gotta catch up, I wanna see what you've been up to."
It's Chaerin's turn to hesitate. "Yeah, sure."
Jiyong can just see her, in her running gear and full makeup with nowhere to go. He's offered to help her with the album no fewer than three times, and now it's too late.
Maybe she'll never get it together. Maybe she'll grow old looking out of the window and waiting for all that hard work and sacrifice to make sense.
The line goes silent, save for her breathing. This would be the moment, were they in the same room, that he would think about kissing her.
And he would tell himself that if he were ever going to kiss her he would have done it years ago.
"I'll pencil you in." He smiles half-heartedly at his reflection in the window pane.
Jiyong looks down on the city and feels love reverberating up through him. Tomorrow he will board a plane and move onto Amsterdam, and by God he's going to make what time he has in London count.