Moscow to Beijing
Books, Moscow to Beijing

Moscow to Beijing: Chapter 1

Moscow to Beijing

June had a plan, and it was this: she would put on her best dress and her wedge sandals that were just on the right side of comfy-chic and would give her a distinct height advantage in a crowd. Her make-up would be on point: hiding all her little imperfections, making her eyes look bigger. She’d go to the arena, use the VIP ticket she had spent way too much money on to get in early and snag a spot in the front rows of the pit. Then the concert would start, and he’d be there.

Max Gardner in all his glory.

He’d be a few feet away from her, singing his heart out in a silk shirt and flared pants. His blond, slicked back curls would rebel with every toss of his head and fall over his microphone in waves. Usually, it happened after he sang Ignite and danced around the stage to the guitar solo. After that, he’d take a deep breath and laugh into the microphone. With his gorgeous dimpled smile he’d say: “It’s getting a little warm in here,” and invariably pop open the first two buttons of his shirt to deafening screams and chants of ‘take it off, take it off!’ To which he’d reply teasingly: “Behave!”

In between sets, Max would banter with the crowd; pick up a stray tossed object, say hello to some tired looking parents and, as he did in some shows, ask if it was anyone’s birthday. That would be her queue to hold up her sign saying – KISS ME, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!

He would notice it – of course – and ask, “Is it really your birthday?”

And she’d nod – yes – and it would be only a small lie. Her birthday would start a few hours after the concert, but her mother always claimed she had been born at a quarter to midnight so that, in her mind, made it technically true. Then Max would crouch down, gesture for her to be allowed closer, lean down from the stage and give her a peck on the cheek.

Would he let her kiss him on the lips?

Maybe.

He was too well-mannered to push anyone away. Some fans managed to sneak one past him, somewhere between the exhilaration of the night and a moment of distraction. He would make that cute surprised face and mutter into the microphone, “Naughty, naughty!” Then the crowd would go ballistic out of sheer envy.

And that would be it! She’d have stars in her eyes for the rest of the night. She’d sing every lyric until her voice would go hoarse. She’d jump around during Midnight at the Bowery, get tearful holding up her phone light singing along to Spring Promise and feel hopelessly nostalgic when he would wrap up the night with the first song he had ever sung on stage, Be My Girl, back when he was still part of the Riot Boys. It would be the perfect night to end her twenties on. The vague dream that started the decade ending it sweetly, with a kiss.

“Are you mental?” Kasia asked, when June had finished relaying her plans over a cup of tea in their shared living room. “And am I the only one who finds it slightly disturbing that you started crushing on this guy when he was what, sixteen?”

“This isn’t about ten years ago, Kasia, focus!”

“By all means, let’s focus on… I don’t even know what to call it… your wildly unrealistic birthday fantasy,” her friend sighed. “Like seriously, Junie, why did I go through the trouble of making this ridiculous train trip through fucking Siberia happen for? So you can turn around and blow three hundred pounds on a ticket to moon over some second rate pop star in bloody Birmingham?”

Kasia, as June’s best friend, had taken it upon herself to set up a GoFundMe to make June’s wish of riding on the Trans-Siberian come true. She had persuaded half of June’s family and friends to donate to it with the dogged determination only someone who had worked in NGOs for the better part of her twenties could muster.

“Hey!” June frowned. “I heard you singing Golden Days in the shower the other day!”

“Fine. He’s not second rate and half his songs aren’t bad,” Kasia admitted. “And he does look pretty hot since he grew out his hair.”

“HA!” she smiled victoriously and hugged her. “I know, he was so cute as a teenager, I thought he wouldn’t age well. But then those long curls happened and oomph!”

“Oh, god, we are not having this conversation,” Kasia pushed her away and sighed.

“Look, I know it’s a stretch, it may not happen… But I never tried, you know? I never saw him live, never went to any meet and greets or CD signings or whatever. And I thought, I owe it to my younger self to try it once. I feel like he was always there during my twenties, through uni and all the friendships and the heartbreaks and moving to London…he’s just always been there. Like a trusted friend.”

“Hmm, that sounds familiar.”

June had in fact discovered Max Gardner the same year she and Kasia had met at university. Despite their divergent personalities, they had immediately bonded, and become inseparable friends. They had both moved to London after graduation and had been sharing a flat for nearly three years, ever since Kasia’s long-term boyfriend had – in her words – buggered off back to Poland.

“So this is like a goodbye to my twenties,” June said. “The Trans-Siberian will be a hello to my thirties and they’re going to be fabulous! All thanks to you.” She hugged Kasia tightly again.

“All right, all right,” Kasia’s frown subsided and she returned her hug. “But if this turns into some bitter life lesson about how the end of your twenties is the death of youth and all your dreams, don’t come crying to me.”

“That’s the spirit,” June grinned. “And if it’s any comfort, I paid for everything with my credit card and I regret it already.”

“That is comforting,” Kasia said.

“Now, you have to help me find my makeup look for the concert. I was thinking something colourful since Max is more into bubbly than sultry.”

“Why am I friends with you, WHY?” Kasia groaned.

“I’ve been around too long, I’m practically part of the furniture,” June offered with a grin. She stuck out her tongue at Kasia and, point made, proceeded to flop down on the couch and search for the perfect concert makeup look online. Kasia joined her after a few minutes of dignified outrage. June’s birthday was in two weeks.

The first sign that things would not go according to plan was when the train stopped outside Coventry. June had allowed for a few hours between her arrival in Birmingham and the start of the concert, but the leisurely pace she had set for herself was disappearing with every passing minute the train did not depart. When it finally moved to the relieved cheers of the passengers, June was already over an hour behind schedule.

As soon as she arrived at Birmingham Snow Hill station, she headed straight to her hotel. To celebrate the last day of her twenties, she had not only splurged on an early entry VIP ticket, but had gone so far as to book the poshest hotel she could find in Birmingham. The fact it was not particularly expensive said more about Birmingham than her credit card limit.

However, June had no time to indulge in her sumptuous surroundings as she hurried to change and apply her makeup. That’s when things went wrong again. Her treacherous hands refused to obey her. Every line she drew came out skewed, every dab of eyeshadow, smudged. She started from scratch two times, with similar results. She looked at herself in the mirror in dismay and felt dangerously close to bursting into tears out of sheer frustration. Her phone rang just in time to stop her. Kasia. She accepted the video-call and her best friend’s face popped up on the screen, looking confused.

“What the bloody hell are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be at the arena already?” Kasia asked and then noticing June’s makeup added, “What is wrong with your face?”

June’s lower lip started trembling and tears filled her eyes.

“Hey, hey! Knock it off!” Kasia snapped. “Listen to me, June. Your room has a minibar, right?” She nodded. “Just take one of those tiny bottles of liquor from it and down it. Right now.”

June looked at the minibar and hesitated, then walked over, grabbed a tiny bottle of Johnnie Walker and emptied it in one go. She shuddered.

“That was disgusting,” she said. However, it did help. June felt her jitters slowly subside and, with them, her tears. She took a deep breath and looked at the screen. “Now what?”

“Now you take off that clown face and try something more basic.”

As June did as Kasia suggested, she felt her calm and steady hands return. Her finished look wasn’t quite the colourful extravaganza she had decided on in London, but it included golden eyeshadow that complimented her hazel eyes and the shimmering appliqués on her short blue dress.

“There, pretty as a picture.” Kasia let out satisfied. “Now, don’t forget that ridiculous sign!”

June glanced at the big cardboard sign leaned against the bed. It said, in big sparkly blue letters: KISS ME, IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! It was both eye-catching and stylish. Her graphic design professor had been right: you could never go wrong with Helvetica. She just hoped Max Gardner would feel the same.

“It’s not ridiculous, it’s a work of art!”

“Fine, it’s beautiful, your best work to date,” Kasia humoured her. “Better than your layouts for that Pink Floyd exhibition book at the V&A. But it’s still absolutely ridiculous. Now get your ass to that arena and call me later to tell me how it went!”

June ended the call and turned towards the bathroom mirror. At least her hair looked good. She had put it up, with soft waves framing her face. Not bad at all. If she were Max Gardner, she would totally kiss herself. She leaned over and pressed her lips to the mirror leaving two rose-tainted lipstick marks on it.

By the time she arrived at the arena, most of the early entry ticket holders were already there. June realised she would definitely not make it to the front of the stage. She wound up in what she would tentatively call a row eight of the pit. The mass of high-strung teenagers squeezed around her like a boa constrictor, trying to either trample her to death or push her to the back. She feared for her sign, but wound up using it as a shield to create a bit of space in front of her.

When the lights eventually went out, screams, high-pitched and deafening, rose in unison. Fans jumped around, hugging each other. The screens lit up with blue and purple orchids and then, an all too familiar voice sang the opening lyrics of Whispers:

“Do you remember, darling? All the trees were in bloom along the avenue of dreams, when you squeezed my hand on the wheel and whispered, you’re my only…only love…”

It was the sad story of a secret affair, where love could only be whispered, never spoken aloud. Rumour had it the song was about an older married woman Max had been head over heels in love with when he was twenty-one, but ultimately, she had chosen her family over him. There were several guesses as to who this heartbreaker was, most of them well known actresses and models, but, since he had been linked to a significant number of women since his teenage years, no one could be absolutely certain who Whispers was about.

Max emerged from the stage on a platform and continued the song accompanied by the occasional back-up vocals, his eyes closed in concentration. The blue and purple flowers, projected onto him, gave him a melancholy, otherworldly look.

“It was late December, snowflakes dancing in your hair, my heart was frozen, yours so cold, as you whispered… you’re not my love, you never were.”

There was a moment of silence as the audience held its breath and then, as the lights went up and focused on him, Max lifted his gaze. His crystal blue eyes turned towards the crowd and he smiled reassuringly, as if his heart had never been broken. He was wearing a pale turquoise shirt, patterned with flowers. It had a tantalising transparency to it and a plunging neckline that revealed rows of colourful beads. Charcoal-coloured pants, high-waisted and flared, completed his outfit for the night. His long blond curls were neatly slicked back and June knew, from countless concert videos she had watched, it was only a matter of time before they would get tousled.

Then there it was, so close, that voice from a thousand radio interviews and TV appearances, a little raspy, a little deep…

“Good evening, Birmingham! Thank you for coming out tonight! I feel very privileged to be here again, in the place it all began nearly ten years ago.”

Cheers broke out, coupled with “we-love-you’s”. June recalled that his former band, the Riot Boys, had started their very first tour in Birmingham. At the time, it had been a very modest affair that included a dozen or so locations across the UK. No one could have anticipated that within three years they would be selling out the world’s biggest arenas.

“Birmingham will always have a special place in my heart,” Max said. “Now, we started off a bit slow tonight, but I think it’s about time we picked up the pace a little, don’t you?” Murmurs of agreement and excitement filled the crowd, breathlessly anticipating what they already knew would follow. “I want you all to stand up and get ready to dance. This is Midnight at the Bowery.”

The intro started and June could feel the floor already shaking beneath her feet as the girls around her began moving to the rocky instrumentals before Max even began singing. Midnight at the Bowery was a song about a crazy night out in New York that starts when a beautiful and elusive girl walks into the Bowery Hotel at midnight. What follows is a lively whirlwind adventure as Max chases his Cinderella across the city, predictably catching up with her at sunrise.

“Your scent drives me wild, your smile’s made to linger, oh, baby, the ghost of you’s on every street corner and New York’s just not the same, since midnight at the Bowery. You’ll see me turning up, at every minute before twelve, until you walk in and we do it all again.”

Max had said in interviews that the song was inspired by a girl he had met on a night out in New York and never encountered again. After rumours claimed that every time he was in New York, Max would have a drink at midnight at the Bowery Hotel in hopes of encountering his mystery girl, the hotel became a pilgrimage site for his most devoted fans. They would save up to sip cocktails for an evening in the lavish hotel, giddily anticipating that, at the stroke of midnight, their Prince Charming would turn up. He never did.

By the time he got to Ignite, Max was already dishevelled which his squealing fans wholeheartedly approved of. Predictably, buttons came undone and his perfectly coifed curls, matted with sweat and hands running through them, had already started rebelling. During the first break in the set, he jokingly teased a fan about a misspelled sign as his guitarist, holding her pick between her teeth, braided his locks into a loose ponytail and draped it over his shoulder.

“Oh, thank you, sweetheart,” he said, kissing her hand and leaning his cheek into it. The crowd went wild, but the guitarist just laughed and swatted him away. The fans, whose jealousy when it came to Max reached catastrophic heights, would have torn the guitarist apart were it not for the simple fact she was married to the drummer. Max’s friendship with the couple had therefore been labelled wholesome and pure and moments such as the one June had just witnessed were fawned over by fans across the world. The band were Max’s family away from home in the same way the Riot Boys had been in his adolescence.

During this brief interlude, he didn’t ask, as he sometimes did, if it was anyone’s birthday. June started to worry he never would. It wasn’t something he did in every concert, but his fans had come to expect it.

Spring Promise followed and phone lights went up in the dark and, although beginning to feel disheartened, June joined in. It was Max’s most famous ballad, about young love that was meant to last forever, but that distance broke apart. June had related to the song from the first time she had listened to it, since it was something she had experienced herself. It had made her feel closer to Max, as if they shared a common sadness.

There were three more songs before Max stopped to chat with the audience again.

“Let’s get the lights up for a minute,” he instructed someone backstage. “I must say, I do love the colours in the crowd tonight. Everyone’s looking absolutely fabulous!” The crowd replied with a collective ‘you’re fabulous’. He cupped his ear as if he couldn’t hear, making everyone pick up the chant and repeat it back to him. Then he adjusted his shirt, puffed up his chest and struck a pose. “I’ll be honest, I was just fishing for a compliment.”

June guessed Max probably wouldn’t stop to speak to the audience again, so she took her chance and held up her sign, waving it around. Max’s eyes scanned the crowd and seemed to stop at it. Her heart started pounding in her chest and she held her breath. This was it. Her long-awaited moment. She felt like she would faint on the spot if he addressed her. That brief second seemed to stretch into eternity, but then time rushed forward with all its force and his eyes moved on.

June’s heart sank. Her opportunity had passed. Max chatted to a tired looking dad in the crowd, trying to get him to sing along to the chorus of Amelia. In the end, the crowd sang it for him and the lights went out again and with them, all of June’s hopes for the evening.

Bitter disappointment set in and she let herself be pushed back by the crowd. Her sign fell from her hands and was stepped on by the girls jumping around her, its glittery letters tainted and torn.

“There used to be more of us, now there’s just me and this empty glass. It’s 4am in the city that never sleeps, but it’s the thought of you that keeps me awake. Are you out there too? Laughing with your new friends? Or are you like me, lonely at 4am, looking for company for your misery? I could be your company, like on all those nights you want to forget, from Sydney to LA. Thick as thieves, you and me, in the alleys of all the cities in the world that never sleep.”

His voice, filled with longing, crooned into the microphone. It was 4am, famously nicknamed the Riot Boys’ breakup song. Written by Max, it was released as a single just three months before the band had called it quits after the end of their fourth world tour. The Riot Boys had lasted the typical five-year lifespan of a boy band but had notoriously ended on bad terms due to creative differences and a gruelling touring schedule. The tender tribute paid by Max in 4am had perplexed fans, but there was no doubt who the song was addressed to: the rogue member that had walked out of the Riot Boys and broken the collective hearts of their fans, Thiago Da Sousa.

The song triggered a wave of nostalgia in June, recalling how she had tracked the band’s adventures across the globe, imagining the fun they had on the road as a rambunctious group of free-spirited boys whose joyous music and shenanigans conquered the world one city at a time. She remembered crying the first time she had heard 4am, thinking of how time and fame had driven Max and Thiago, once as close as brothers, so far apart.

“You make it look so easy, come over and teach me how… It’s 4am and I want to forget too.”

June leaned down and picked up her trampled sign and hugged it to her chest. She didn’t want to forget. Max, the Riot Boys and all their music had always made her feel happy when she was low. They had reminded her, in a gentler way than Kasia was capable of, that things, at the end of the day, would be all right. She pushed aside her disappointment and started singing along as loud as she could. She danced, waving her sign around and forgot about everything: her twenties, her thirties, her broken heart and the lips she would never taste.

The encore, as always, included the Riot Boys’ first single, Be My Girl, which Max had always been particularly fond of.

As he sang the chorus, “Don’t you know, don’t you know, I always wanted you to be my girl,” everyone noticed Max winking at a slender pretty girl in the VIP area. June spotted her: she looked like a model. Wait, was that Poppy Langston? June’s eyes widened. She was the British model Max was rumoured to be dating ever since a rather risqué photoshoot they’d done together for Pearl St Clair’s latest capsule collection a few months back. They had been all over each other, although nothing had ever been confirmed.

June suddenly felt just how ridiculous her plan had been to begin with. Kasia had been right as usual, what had she been thinking? Max had been associated with nothing but models and celebrities since he had turned eighteen and the Riot Boys had made it big. Why would he ever look at a normal girl again? June thought of herself as mildly attractive, but she shuddered to think how she would look on her best day next to Poppy Langston on her worst. And what would someone used to eating fine French patisserie want with a Sainsbury’s muffin? Absorbed by her thoughts, June nearly missed Max’s closing goodbye and the kisses he blew to the public. At least, she mused, that was a kiss of sorts.

By the time she managed to get out of the arena, it was an hour to midnight. Only sixty minutes left of her twenties. She took a deep breath, decided against checking her phone and began walking aimlessly around the city, weighing all the pluses and minuses of the decade in her mind. Years spent not only in adoration of Max Gardner, although he had a special place in them. There had been relationships and friendships that had come together and fallen apart, others that had lasted. Journeys that had expanded her world beyond anything she had ever imagined growing up in a small town like Newbury. So what if she was thirty, her last real relationship had fizzled out two years before and she had yet to earn over 30K a year? She had lived her life with few regrets, right?

June was startled by the chime of a clock tower and when she looked up, she saw both its hands pointing to midnight.

“That’s it then,” she sighed.

She was thirty. And, ironically, quite lost. June pulled out her phone, ignored the messages and searched for directions back to her hotel. When she finally arrived, the receptionist handed her three glittery floating balloons attached to a card. She opened it and read the note inside:

Welcome to your thirties, it’s all downhill from here!

Kasia, of course.

She didn’t quite feel like going back to her room yet. After all, she had paid to stay in this beautiful hotel. Maybe she should treat herself to a nice cocktail. She remembered they had a rather swanky looking bar next to the lobby. A nice place to toast to the beginning of her thirties.

She passed by a mirror on her way to the bar. Her makeup was a bit smudged and her hair slightly tousled, but she looked pretty good for a thirty-year-old.

The bar was empty. There was no one around except a bartender polishing glasses and a familiar looking guy, sitting on one of the barstools, casually sipping something on the rocks. As she neared the bar, she froze: it was Max fucking Gardner. He had clearly showered and changed and looked fresh in a crisp white shirt and an embroidered jacket. His ringed fingers were playing with the glass in his hands.

At first, she thought she was seeing things. Her brain was unable to process what was happening: why would he be there, in her hotel bar of all places? Why was he alone? Where was his bodyguard, the army of fans that always caught his scent and crowded the entrances to all the hotels he stayed in? Had he sneaked off? Was he just having a nightcap before going to bed? Was his bed there? In that building, dizzyingly close to hers?

It was nearly 2am and the bartender seemed to be patiently waiting to close up. Her heart, so devastated hours before, sprang back to life, pounding harder than it had all day. This was it, wasn’t it? Her big chance! To what, exactly? Her big plan had never implied a conversation! Still, she couldn’t let this chance slip her by! She should at least tell him how much he had meant to her since she had been twenty and the Riot Boys had burst onto the music scene. She took a deep breath and approached him.

Just as she opened her mouth to say something, Max turned his head towards her and stared straight at her. Finding herself the target of those blue eyes she had gushed over in countless magazine pictures, she was suddenly tongue-tied. He must have noticed because he jumped to her rescue.

“I remember you,” Max said. “You were at the concert tonight, to the left of the stage, I think! Big sparkly sign. Dancing up a storm.”

“Th-that’s right,” June smiled weakly and gestured to the cardboard sign she was still carrying in one hand. She tried again to say something, anything really, but found herself at a loss.

“What’s your name?” he asked and didn’t seem at all bothered by this fumbling stranger that had interrupted what was perhaps his after-concert ritual.

“I’m…you can call me June.”

“Did you have a good time, June?”

“I-I did,” she said. “I’d never seen you live before. Although I was a fan…back in the day.”

“And? Did it live up to your expectations?” Max gestured for her to sit. She leaned over to put down her sign and tied the balloons around an empty barstool before taking the seat next to him. Max waved down the bartender. “I know you’re meant to be closing, but could you possibly whip up a quick drink for my friend? What would you like?”

“Um, a gin and tonic.”

“Anything for you, Mr. Gardner,” the bartender beamed and proceeded to mix the drink. Max leaned into June conspiratorially.

“I signed an autograph for his cousin,” he whispered.

June could smell the vague hint of a tantalising fragrance and spotted the outline of a bird-shaped pendant peeking beneath the open collar of his shirt. She felt a strong urge to bury her face in the crook of his neck.

“Thank god you don’t actually use Paradise Blue,” she said instead.

“What?” Max frowned.

“I can smell your aftershave and it’s not Paradise Blue. I was in the airport this one time and saw your ad for it. I actually considered buying it, thinking, well, it would be like your scent, but then I smelled it and…um, it wasn’t very nice.”

Max stared at her for a second, then burst into laughter.

“Technically I should be wearing it, you’re right. I’m contractually obligated to say I do. But between you and I, I don’t particularly like it either.” He winked at her and June could have melted into a puddle right then.

“Are you from out of town?” he asked as the bartender reappeared with her drink. June nodded, then took a long swig of her gin and tonic to calm her nerves. He chuckled. “Steady on!”

“Sorry, I’m just a little overwhelmed. I’m sure you get this a lot.”

“Well, you’re coherent, that’s always a plus,” Max said. “Is it really your birthday today?” he pointed with his glass to her sign lying disregarded at her feet. Ever since birthdays had become an easy way to get Max’s attention during concerts, his fans had taken to interpreting birth dates rather liberally.

“During the concert? Not exactly, but now…” she looked at the clock above the bar. “It’s been officially my birthday for two hours.”

“June, born in the month of June,” Max smiled. “Thank you for spending your pre-birthday evening with me!” He clinked his glass to hers.

“And fifteen thousand other people or so.”

“Well, you have me all to yourself now,” Max said, meeting her eyes again and June felt herself blush. She took another sip from her drink.

“I already like my thirties better than my twenties.”

“Ah, a milestone birthday.”

“And it’s just starting…” she added gaining confidence either from the drink or how comfortable Max made her feel.

“Big plans?” he asked.

“You could say that. I’m flying to Moscow in a week to take the Trans-Siberian train all the way to Beijing.”

“That’s a long way to go on a train!”

“Six days and six nights to be more precise,” June said. “It goes through Siberia, right by Lake Baikal and through the desert in Mongolia. All that wilderness, everything and nothing at the same time. And the sky, can you imagine? The stars over Siberia? I think I’ll be spending the days and nights glued to the window.”

“It doesn’t sound so bad, getting away from everything and everyone.”

“It’s not about running away, Max,” she said, and the casual way she’d spoken his name felt strange on her tongue, like the desecration of something divine. “It’s about experiencing something awe-inspiring and majestic.”

Their eyes locked and June felt a sudden shift in the mood.

“Still, I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard of Max Gardner in Mongolia,” he said.

“I don’t know about that.”

His eyes darted over her shoulder towards the bar entrance. She turned her head and saw a burly man in a black T-shirt nodding towards him.

“I have to go,” Max said standing up. “They’re expecting me in London tomorrow. Last show.”

“At the O2, I know.” June had tried to get tickets, but it had been sold out which was why she had come to Birmingham. She got up and picked up her balloons. “Thank you. It was lovely speaking to you.”

“No, thank you for all your support and coming out to see me,” Max automatically went for a hug as if he was used to dispensing them like candy. She was enveloped in the intoxicating smell of his aftershave and felt the cool fabric of his designer jacket against her cheek, and for an instant, the heat of his body and his breath in her hair. Then he pulled back. She thought it was over, but one of his hands touched her face and before she knew what was happening, he closed his eyes and pressed his lips to hers in a tender kiss. She looked at him, dumbfounded.

“Happy birthday, June,” he said, smiling sweetly.

Max left money for the drinks plus a generous tip and walked away with a final wave. June couldn’t move.

“Are you all right?” the bartender asked.

“No, I’m not,” she said. “I was just kissed by Max Gardner.”

“Lucky girl!”

Her sign was at the foot of the bar, looking a bit worse for wear, with half its glitter gone, but still stating boldly: KISS ME IT’S MY BIRTHDAY.

June called Kasia as soon as she got back to her room.

“Are you sure you didn’t have a delusional episode?” Kasia asked incredulously.

“You’d rather believe that I had some kind of breakdown than that Max would kiss me?” June scoffed.

“I do feel like the disappointment of your plan not working out might have had that effect.”

“It happened, Kasia, and it was magical. MAGICAL!” June squealed, rolling around the bed.

She couldn’t fall asleep all night. She kept touching her mouth, trying to hold on to the fleeting sensation of his lips on hers. In the early hours of the morning, when her overexcited mind finally gave in, she dreamt, predictably, of Max Gardner serenading her in front of fifteen thousand people.

 

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Moscow to Beijing is available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.

Cover image: © Kana Iguchi

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