Chapter 1

The apartment door slammed as Maya Valentine was hunting through a drawer for TV remote control she thought she'd seen there. At least she thought someone left it there last night. She looked up to see who it was when her stepbrother walked into the living area and slapped a written notice on the coffee table.

"What's this?" Maya prompted, picking up the slightly crumpled paper.

"The ultimate shit from our dearest landlord," he muttered, collapsing down on his back on the couch. "He's doing crunches. We don't have enough money."

"He's going to kick us out, right?" her hazel-honey eyes slid over him sullenly.

She couldn't deny the fact that the rent was due- and they were a month late. He groaned and draped one hand over his eyes. He couldn't believe it. He'd been working like a hound, but nothing seemed enough to fill the scarce of back rent and bills.

"Maybe we could wreck this place and ran out on them," he said jokingly, clenching on his jet-black hair.

"Hey, I could get another job," she told him. "That coffee shop I've been working at kind of running down, and I need more personal credit to cover up my tuition fees. Anyway, I was scouring the Craiglist today and found out that The Angel's Share is short-handed. I was wondering if you could give me a pass."

He made a face.

"What?" she demanded with an irritated frown. "What are you doing with your face?"

"You know what kind of place The Angel's Share is, right? They sell wild fantasies."

"Well, it's the only job that pays off well," she reiterated. "I would only wait tables. I wouldn't go for someone's nuts, if you know what I mean. And that's how it's going to work with me."

He scrutinized her in silence for a moment, and then he pushed himself off the couch, roamed over to his room. "If that could help get him the hell off our heads, I can't argue with you more."

"Thanks," she said. "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"I got fired for stealing a stinking hunk of chuck. So, I'm pretty much skinned now," he said with a yawn. "Anyway, I'm taking a nap. See you later, Maya."

His green eyes flitted over her before he walked away, they were red and glassy she thought they were in need of Visine drops. Maya didn't say anything back as she stared at the back of her stepbrother's lanky, six-foot figure. She could smell him from where she was sitting, cigarette smoke mingled with that rancid, sickly sweet scent. There was a jacked-up energy about him that hint at stronger stuff.

"Later, Hunter."

At least he wasn't completely blazed.

...

It was almost the end of the day, and the surrounding air was wrapped in droops of mist. The sky was still gray by the time Hunter Greenwald parked his motorbike in front of Churchill's, a rundown bar on the edge of the smug and populous city of Long Island. He took off his helmet; green eyes darted around, scanning the area. This used to be one of the darkest areas in the boroughs of New York. Things looked pretty grim here- with shabby houses and stores, some of them even boarded up, perfect dwellings for a drug dealer. There was a tattoo parlor nearby and another seedy bar next to it.

Unlike few quaint pubs around the city with their variety selections of frozen alcoholic drinks, brass fixtures and socializing hubs, Churchill's was a dive, strictly for serious drinking only.

Hunter stepped into the dimly lit bar. The place was deserted, except for a lone bartender who was perched on a stool, watching General Hospital. He pulled out a stool and settled on the peeling vinyl coated fabric, grimacing as he noticed the tabletop feel sticky, but he shrugged it off anyway. He lit a cigarette and ordered a draft. It was still too early to take a dive into the tall amber bottle, he thought. So he opted for a glass of beer instead.

He was going to meet a friend here, an old friend who could help him wean off his financial problems. He was in desperate need for money. His family ran out of bucks and credits after his mother and stepfather passed away seven years ago, leaving him with his stepsister and a sixteen-year-old half-brother. What he could do at the age of twenty-three, was making money by getting jobs, but the jobs never work out anyway. The money didn't stretch out too well for him.

He inhaled deeply and whoosh out a languorous waft of cigarette smoke. He hated to ponder over, but his life was kind of screwed up.

And his friend offered him a job that would help him earn a side income- by things that could get people hooked and buzzed from the binge, including himself. A risky part-time job that include scoring for people big time, and it would pay off more than enough.

The bartender set the beer down in front of him. "That'll be a buck fifty."

"I'm gonna run a tab," Hunter said. He still had twenty dollars and change in his pockets, so they could get him nicely buzzed.

The bartender nodded and walked away.

Hunter took a drag on his cigarette, and then reached for the glass. He eyed it with distaste. There was a faint smudge of lipstick along the top edge. He didn't bother to ask for another, the next one could be worse. This place was a rundown anyway, so he didn't expect a better treatment. He sipped the beer and found it lukewarm and slightly flat. Not a surprise.

The door to the bar opened, and someone walked in.

"Hunter! My man!" someone slapped his shoulder from behind. "Been expecting you."

Hunter looked up and recognized his friend. "What's up, Tyler?"

"It's all good, bro," Tyler slid onto a stool next to him, ordering a double shot of Jack Daniel's.

Hunter could smell the pungent scent of weed clinging to his friend's hooded sweatshirt. He wondered if all Tyler ever did was getting a hit and skipping for snort. For all he knew, Tyler's life was even more messed up than his own, slipped so far downhill. All his dive into the lair of self-destructive course didn't start without a concrete reason. For Hunter, it didn't take him long to immerse into a lifestyle that was similar to Tyler's.

"So you're up to catch a buzz, huh?" Tyler said, taking a shot of Jack. "Ahh...this Jack is definitely a cardiovascular-jumping jack!"

Hunter thought Tyler was a little too bombed.

"I never thought I could take a chance on this shit, but what the hell..." he shrugged, putting out his cigarette. "All I want is to get my head. So, did you bring the stuff?"

"Good one," Tyler slurred, he was obviously too tweaked to talk eloquently. "Did you bring the fundage?"

"What could I get for ten? You know stash is not in my favor now."

"Dude, ten can't do enough for this greedy prick," Tyler downed his second shot and beckoned to the bartender for another one. "But I think it's fair for a small toot."

Hunter took another sip of beer. It wasn't going easily as he'd anticipated, the stuff was lukewarm and completely flat. He wondered; he was such a dedicated fuck up to plunge into this risky attempt. It was all because of money. People could hide a lot, and get away with a lot- if they played their cards right. And so far, this low-life supplier friend here hadn't been caught in a bust. He hoped whatever he was about to deal would hold an ace or two.

"It's a bit pricey but I'm gonna give you a free test drive, buddy," Tyler gloated, draining another shot the bartender put in front of him, then stood up. "If you've decided to join me scoring, you know where to find me. But remember, once you're in, you shouldn't flake out on me," he gave an elfin smile, pounding one fist against the opposite palm.

"Wait, I don't have to pay now?"

"Till next time, bro," Tyler started for the door. "Don't forget to check your pockets."

At first, Hunter thought Tyler was completely out of it- because he wasn't making any sense, not taking his money and talking about pockets. He sighed and reached again for his glass. The beer tasted acrid and he couldn't force down more than one swallow. He stood up, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jean jacket for money when he felt the small packet deep inside the red pocket, nestled in the corner along the seams. He frowned and pulled them out.

In his hand was a packet of crystal meth.

...

The song Talking to the Moon by Bruno Mars filled the small dance studio.

His sapphire blue eyes followed her every movement as she twirled around gracefully. She caught his gaze, hazel and golden-flecked, slid over his like melted honey. She smiled at him, the simplest of gesture that was capable of wreaking havoc deep in his stomach. For every beat of the song- and in time with his heartbeat, she composed the physical routine perfectly. Her smooth, waist-length caramel hair flipped perfectly as she turned around. Her legs were long, wrapped in skin the color of wheat, swung elegantly as she shifted from one step to another. From where he was standing, he could catch the sweet scent of lemon. Delicious. Like her, all flawless lusciousness from head to toes.

Talking to the moon...

Try to get to you...

In hopes you're on the other side talking to me too...

Or am I a fool who sits alone...

Talking to the moon...

Like her name- Maya, she was like an enchantress when she danced. Every gentle sway seemed like it was a vision conjured from imagination.

The way her body swayed mesmerize him. Her movements were subtle but sharp with deliberate use of gravity and flexibility, quite relaxed, sophisticated and graceful. Every step seemed to have gestural symbolic, full of emotions- as if she was telling him a story, her own story, conveyed in a form of modern contemporary dance.

Beautiful.

He knew Maya's story, and every road she'd swerved off wasn't always the right one. Not everything was happy one; there was disappointment- and despair too. But he never regretted their friendship since their freshmen year in high school. For four years he'd known her, she was always strong, never once back down from challenges. The strength radiated from her evoked such admiration from him, a strong admiration for his best friend.

All he knew, that admiration was slowly changing into something more. Something deep that was beyond platonic love, more than sexual pull between a male and female. It was a deep connection that blossomed from his emotion.

She was so beautiful, just there, like an angel seeking for her lost wings.

But underneath it all, there was a broken soul staggering beneath the immensity of sorrow.

He wished he could ease her pain away.

"River?"

River jerked away from his thoughts, turning his attention back on his best friend. She was smiling at him, her fingers swatting the radio player off. He smiled back sheepishly, running his hand through his dark blond hair. "Sorry, Mae. I got side-tracked a bit."

"That's okay. You're the King of Day-dreaming since high school," Maya laughed. "Anyway, what do you think of the dance?"

"I think it was beautiful, very deep and emotional," he commented sincerely. "Really. You know you might think I was zoning out for a second here, but I actually paid attention to your movements."

"Thank you, Mr. Cornwell. It's good to know that you actually paid attention," she grabbed a small towel and slung it over her shoulder.

"Well, I'm not the best jury but I think you can pay me by taking me out on a dinner at our favorite joint," he suggested in hope she would agree to hang out with him again tonight.

"I would love to, but sadly I can't," she scrunched her nose. "I'm working tonight."

"What? I thought you only work for morning shift."

"Well, Hunter and I are hilariously late on the back rent due, and we're pretty much short on the financial side. So, I have to take two jobs at a time to cover up our rent and my tuition fees," she explained.

River's forehead creased. "Mae, if you need money I can always loan you some."

"Oh hell no," she shook her head. "I don't want you to be bogged down by our problems."

He was aware of her declared prudence. It was her policy not to get on people's back whenever she was struggling on something. She wouldn't drag somebody else into her problems- not until her miserable life was over. Call her shrewd, but when it comes to her own life principal, she would stick to it firmly.

And yet it was another of her redeeming quality that appealed to him.

"Shoot!" Maya glanced up at the clock on the stylishly fake cobble-stoned wall. "I have to get there in fifteen minutes. Hey, can you give me a ride?"

"Sure," he shrugged. "If I know where I should take you."

"You'll know once we get there."

...

River's Premier 4509 Bentley idled on the unpaved shoulder of a lane, far away in the corner of parking lot- upon Maya's request. She was supposed to wear a customized uniform her boss gave her when she got the job. Honestly, she thought the uniform reminded her of those women at Playboy Cyber Club, with its skimpy red shorts, white body-fitted sailor blouse and a matching natty red neck scarf. Hell, she didn't want people in the dance studio to see her in those jaunty, perky regalia.

She didn't mind though if her job was only to wait tables- and flaunting her sex appeals without physical contacts from customers, as long as she got paid off handsomely.

"So, what are you gonna do tonight?" she asked River from the backseat of his car, struggling to shrug her tights off.

"Not sure yet. I'm still slightly bummed out that you're not available tonight," he replied jokingly from the driver's seat.

"Oh come on!" her voice muffled as she was trying to ease off her sweater. "What about Abby? You should take her out tonight. She seems fun."

"Depends on your definition of 'Fun'," he murmured. "With Abby, there's nothing exclusive."

"You mean you're just sleeping with her, and that's it? I thought she's your girlfriend now," she said, putting on her sailor blouse and left it unbuttoned as she was rummaging through the jumble of clothes, looking for the red shorts.

"We're not labeling it," he remarked.

"Yeah, right. You're not into relationship," she mumbled, trying to put on the shorts. "I get it."

The truth was she didn't. She didn't understand why he wasn't looking for serious, real, committed connection with that certain someone. Her best friend was a knockout, with unruly sun-streaked hair that sometimes hid his sapphire blue eyes. In addition to that, he was tall- stood about six-foot-two, body not too muscular- but fit and toned, taut against skin the color of olive, honest from being the mainstream jock since high school. Girls hit on him all the time. Over the years he had gone out with few, nothing too serious, most of them were his one-night guests.

"I bet she doesn't want to date anybody else, she just wants to date you," Maya commented. "She can't keep her paws off you."

"Relationship seems complicated," he contradicted her, sneaking a peek on her from the rearview mirror.

From the mirror, he could see her breasts. The tantalizing sight of her breasts covered in pink lacy bra, jiggling up and down as she was trying to fit the shorts up to her hips snugly. He bit his lip and couldn't take his eyes off such exquisite view. Part of him did feel guilty for secretly watching her half-naked...

"Look away!" she slapped him from behind.

"Ow!" he rubbed his stinging cheek. "Sorry!"

"You need to get laid tonight, man," she said, buttoning her blouse hastily.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to do that. I just happened to glance over," he babbled, feeling his cheeks burned- flaming with embarrassment, which was a pretty rare thing ever happened to him.

What he saw, frankly, up close, was pretty nice and alluring. He pried his eyes from the rearview mirror, feeling all guilty though. He didn't want his own best friend to think that he was such a perv, although it was considered normal for a guy to ogle a woman's impressive assets.

After few minutes of getting dressed, coiffed and makeup reapplication, Maya slid back to the passenger seat, taking her clothes with her. "I'm done."

"Whoa," River gave her a thorough inspection. "Is that your uniform?"

"Yup," she said, slightly embarrassed that she was showing too much skin, especially when her shorts didn't stretch down too well.

"I bet if you lean over, people could see your butt crack," he said airily.

"You think I want to wear this? My boss designed it."

"Let me guess, he's a rich creepy-looking old man with wild fantasies," he said, giving her a once-over.

"True by eighty percent," she replied. "I think he's just a man who likes to cultivate the idea that selling fantasies can make big bucks."

"Yeah I can see that," he scrutinized her again, and then slid his gear stick to reverse. "Well, have you done a screen check on him? You might be working for a pimp or something."

Maya lapsed into a silent. She didn't know why they were having this conversation. She didn't know why he was being nosy- butting his nose on her business. Yeah, she guessed she was a total dumbass for accepting the job. The boss, that old perverted-looking man, specifically told her the place needed someone like her to flaunt- and wait tables. She was well-informed that her job consisted nothing but taking orders and placed them on the counter, no flirting and definitely no physical contacts with customers. What propelled her was the fact that The Angel's Share did give the best tip in town.

"Quit that exaggerated imagination of yours, River," she winced. "I'm not cow-tipping or anything."

"Did Hunter let you do this?" he wanted to know.

'My God,' Maya rolled her eyes. She loved River as her true best friend, but sometimes he can be a bit nosy- and over-protective. Even Hunter, as her stepbrother, didn't stream her with series of interrogation on her doings. For God's sake, she was about to turn twenty in a couple of months. "Of course he did."

"That's diabolical," River winced.

"He wouldn't mind," she gave a nonchalant shrug. "He's not always home anyway."

For as long as he'd known her, she was always trying to figure out how to extricate herself. Try as he might, she wouldn't let him help her. He went to her apartment many times- and most of the time the bitter smell of bourbon smacked him as he stumbled in. She could only give him a weary smile. He couldn't really blame Hunter for choosing abatement in a form of intoxicating amber liquid. Maya said it helped to snare him to deep slumber, since he was insomniac.

Although he'd been friends with Maya for years, he wasn't close to Hunter. The twenty-three year old totally closed off on him.

"I wager the place pays well," he said finally, trying to fill the momentary awkward silence between them.

"Best tip in town," she added, now with a tiny smile.

"I just hope you'd be careful, Mae. I don't want those guys to touch your boobs," he said in a tone that assured her he was joking.

"Whoa...watch your language, sir," she laughed and playfully swatted his shoulder. "There's restriction on physical contacts between employees and customers. So, chances on guys to feel my boobs are highly unlikely."

"Glad to hear that," he commented flatly.

She had no idea River wasn't kidding at all.

...

Hello! You're probably wondering why I'd been putting this story on hold. I decided to give ISILY a fresh start and reconstruct the plot. Also, I've done some changes in settings and story line.

I don't own Bruno Mars' Talking to the Moon, although the song made me rape the replay button while I was writing River and Maya's scene.

Thanks for reading and tell me what you think :)

~champagne kisses~