The Milky Bar
“Huh, I just realized it’s February fourteenth,” he said, looking down at his phone.
“So?” she asked.
“Happy Valentine’s Day!” He lifted his paper cup towards her to cheer, but she looked back blankly. “It’s an old commercial holiday from my home planet. It’s a celebration of romance.”
“Oh.” She smiled, nervously. “Where is that?”
“Terre. It’s actually in this solar system.”
“That explains your odd physique,” she teased.
He smiled, then, revealing perfectly straight teeth. “I hope you don’t find it too odd,” he said with a small wink.
“Good,” he chuckled.
“You know, I was named after a planet in this solar system,” she said, swirling her drink with the red and white striped straw. She put her lips to it then and sucked back a cold gulp of the sweet cream.
“Yeah, I thought so,” he said. Then he paused. “I think I’m going to use the restroom. I’ll be right back. Then you’re going to tell me all about yourself.”
Six Years Later
“Order up,” Zeyro said. He dropped the bubble-gum tray onto the pearl countertop and tapped the service bell twice. It let off two sharp pings to demand Venus, who quickly danced across the glass floors at the bell’s call. In her pink sneakers, her movements looked as delicate as a trained ballerina.
“Table three,” Zeyro said, straightening his white cap over his yellow scalp which looked like a painted sunshine. There was a stream of sweat falling from his purple brow. It reminded Venus of the rain which used to fall on her home planet.
“Thanks, Zeyro,” She said, desperately wanting to hug him and tell him he was doing a great job. Z had been there almost as long as she had, and it was never-ending work.
“There are no closing hours,” Rae had told Venus, her first day on the job. “There is no day here, there is no night, so there are no hours. Someone must always be working, and a lot of the time, that someone will be you.”
That didn’t scare Venus at first. She liked the Milky Way Bar & Confectionary. The treats were edible, the people were friendly, and the Milky Way Shakes were a swirly vanilla dream in a cup. She figured if she had to pass the time, this would be as good a way as any. But the thing is, time didn’t pass. It cannot when you are somewhere where time is immeasurable. Venus never saw the sunrise over the round oval windows, she never saw the moon crisp and clear. A black and white canvas of stars and cosmic emptiness is all that filled her windows, seemingly for eternity.
“Here you go folks, two chocolate stingray truffles, a neutron-jelly burger, and a ham and zodium sandwich.”
The couple was a nice pair of Zorchiens from the planet Zorche, a scalding swamp planet with lava geysers. Accordingly, the Zorchiens had thick plated armour as skin, slate grey and as shiny as glass. They shined like a pair of disco balls under the neon lights overhead. Through four slits two pairs of eyes blinked back at Venus, accompanied with a small nod for her service.
Next to the couple was a single mother and her child, a duo of Roxxenne, a species of only females, native to the planet Roxx. The women can reproduce by themselves, therefore eliminating the need for a male of their species. There were some protests about the Roxxenne by some far-right activists at one point. They didn’t like the ‘feminist’ point they were making by existing as a species. But once the implementation of intergalactic travel became standard, and species started mixing, it became hard to pick on individual species, and slowly everyone started to just deal with it.
Just then the doorbell jingled and the space vacuum released a new customer through the single entryway to the Milky Bar.
“Hello there, welcome to the Milky Way Bar and Confectionery, how may I treat your sweet tooth in our galaxy today?” Venus said, barely looking over her shoulder. She was refilling the water glasses of a family of Martians.
“Hi, table for one,” the customer said. He had the low voice of a large man. It was extremely familiar, almost like that of an old friend who once was common but was now a stranger.
“Good day, sir—“ her voice jutted out at the last second. She forced herself to spit out the last syllable as she regained her poise. “Please, sit,” she said, motioning towards a small booth for two in the back corner. Hanging above the booth was an electric-blue neon sign of the word ‘groovy.’ the walls on either side were covered in stickers of brownies and cookies and macaroons and taffy, all glowing blue under the reflected neon light.
“What can I get for you today, sir?”
“Sir? Call me Jackson,” he said, “no need for formalities.” Venus knew it was him. She could recognize that pristine grin on any planet. “And you are?” He asked.
Venus raised an eyebrow. He didn’t remember her. “V. My name is V,” she said. Jackson tilted his head.
“Is that short for something? Veronica, Vanessa..?”
“Nope, just V,” she said.
“Well, shut me up,” he said. “I swear, I’ll never get used to these different names every species has. Some of them are mind-boggles. You know, I met someone named Fedonkle the other day? And last month, I got coffee from a waitress named Waitness. I thought that was hilarious.”
Venus chuckled along as best she could, maintaining her voluptuous smile that curved across her whole face.
“You know, you look familiar…” he finally said. Venus sucked a breath in.
“I have a familiar face,” she said. It was a lie, of course. The Lilian species was known for its distinct facial features and hair feathers. It’s what made the Lilian’s so sought out for modelling jobs. Venus had never been camera-friendly, but she had always stood out among her peers with her small, curved nose and wide purple eyes, and her small frame which looked even smaller under locks of periwinkle and seafoam feathers that cascaded down her warm sandy skin.
“That’s a nice ride you got,” Venus said, nodding her head towards Jackson’s keys. He has tossed his keychain on the table, not discreet in hiding the logo for his C-2 Fusion Model Spacecraft.
“Thanks, I’ve had it forever,” he said. “It’s vintage.” Venus smiled tightly, pretending to care.
She touched his arm gently then, letting her fingers dance over his bicep slowly. His smile curled into a mischievous grin. “So where are you from?” he whispered with a twinkle in his eye.
“Lilia,” she said. “It’s a small planet in the andromeda galaxy. Mostly trees, quite beautiful.”
“Oh yeah, I think I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve been around quite a bit, I’ve lost track.”
“Must be nice. I never go anywhere.”
“No? There must be tons to see from Lilia to here. Must be a hell of a commute.”
Venus forced a laugh. “There’s no commute actually, I live here, at the Milky Bar. I’ve been here for six years.”
“Oh, I see. You must love your job.” Venus rolled her eyes.
She was leaning against the side of the booth, staring into Jackson’s deep brown eyes, holding a pink tray in one hand and her notepad in the other. She still hadn’t taken his order.
“It’s what it is. I can’t afford a trip out of here. I can’t afford a ship, and even if I got a cheap one, the rocket fuel is way too expensive. I’ve been saving up ever since I got here.”
Venus had considered hitchhiking a ride. But most people aren’t willing to spend the extra rocket fuel to take a detour to another planet, and most people weren’t from her planet. Then there were those who did offer a ride. Usually, a single man, as equally unnerving as he was charming. She had heard enough stories about them to fill a book of nightmares. Waitresses taking the ride, overjoyed for a way out, only to never be heard from again. As trapped as she was, at least Venus was safe.
“That’s insane! So, you’ve been decorating cakes and waiting tables every day for six years?”
She nodded, then glanced to the opposite end of the bar, towards the display of cakes and candies lined up in colourful rows like bouquets of flowers. The confectionary was where Venus spent most of her time, icing cupcakes and rolling taffy. It kept her busy and reminded her of the rainbow flowers that bloomed on her home planet. She missed Lilia, and she would do more than anything to return there, even if it meant twisting licorice until her fingers bled.
Venus ran her fingers down Jackson’s arm again and looked him in the eye with a mysterious glare. Intrigued, he smiled and motioned towards the booth.
“Why don’t you sit with me?”
“I have to finish my shift.”
“When does it end?”
“When Day-Zee gets here. She’s commuting from Pluto, should be soon.”
“It’s not that busy,” he said. “Please, sit?” With that, he grabbed her hand and gently tugged her towards him. She complied, nestling in under the neon light. She rested her elbows on the vinyl table and smiled at Jackson.
“I’m going to go to the restroom and then when I come back, you’re going to tell me all about yourself.”
Venus puckered her lips. “Uh,” she stuttered. “There’s a policy… to save your table you have to leave something as collateral.”
He raised an eyebrow until it disappeared under his floppy brown hair. “But I didn’t even run up a tab yet.”
Venus shrugged. “Sorry, it’s the rules. You’d be surprised how many people just leave.”
“There’s only one door?”
“You’d be surprised,” she said, more firmly.
Jackson blushed and patted the table. “Alright, no problem.” He stood up from the booth, all six and a half feet of him and dropped his keys so that they scattered across the table like loose change.
“My keys. So that you know I can’t leave.”
Venus smiled and gave a coy wave and a small wink as Jackson sauntered over to the restroom. As the saloon doors closed behind him, Venus snatched up the keys like dice in a vigorous board game and hopped up from the booth.
“I’m clocking out,” she said to Zeyro. He raised his purple brow and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Early?” She nodded, desperately trying to keep a straight face. “Alright,” he said. He fished around in the tip jar for a moment and then handed Venus a fistful of change. She accepted the small tokens graciously and bowed her head.
“Thank you, Z.”
Then she made her way to the door. She longed for her box of glitter and her striped fur coat. She knew she’d miss her collection of platform sneakers. She didn’t have much—only things Zeyro or Rae or one of the others had given her as gifts—but it was enough to make her hover by the door. But then, out of the corner of her large purple eye, she saw the saloon doors swish. Before she could decide if it was Jackson returning, she smashed her palm into the open button. A gust of air pushed her back as the door opened, pulling Venus into a long tunnel, the docking station. She counted three doors down until she reached the one with Jackson’s ticket pinned to the wall. It contained the date and time in which he had parked, and Venus couldn’t help but gasp at the numbers. Had it been that long? The day was February 13th, almost exactly six years since she got picked up from her home planet for her big Valentine's date. She was so excited, she recalled. She wore a red dress with a leg slit that cut up to her thigh and a pair of black suede heels. She powdered cosmic glitter all over her tan cheeks and even added a shimmering gloss to her lips.
She thought deeply about how painful that night was as she entered the spacecraft. It looked just the same as it did six years ago, with tacky gold detailing and posters of strange Terran women in bikinis. Thankfully, she had watched him fly the ship, so she knew exactly how to maneuver out of the docking station. And just as she did, she saw him, pressed up against the window of the Milky Bar, banging his fists against the thick glass and screaming inaudibly.
Venus had been so excited that night. It was an intergalactic Valentine's date, after all. She was slightly underwhelmed when they arrived at the Milky Bar, for initially, it looked like a diner. But then she saw the confectionary counter and the rows of sweet treats, and her eyes lit up like a little kid on their birthday. And she stuffed her face and racked up a bill and then…
He took the keys and left her.
So maybe, now that it’s the other way around, he’d finally remember.