The sheer endlessness of space never settled well with Jack. He had served on numerous ships, but looking out into the eerie black beyond felt like swimming in the open ocean. No land, no safe place to go. Yet he always came back, plying his trade on a piece of floating metal. A silent coffin.
The cafeteria grounded Jack; it was familiar, reminding him of his mother’s deli back on Earth. It didn’t smell as good nor was it as comfortable, but he was very fond of the woman behind the counter. Her name was Helena.
He watched Helena from his seat at the serving counter, slowly swiveling back and forth on the rotating stool. She was elbow deep in a doughy substance, kneading it furiously. Helena was chubby; she had soft rosy cheeks and ample curves that Jack found most appealing. Others joked about Helena behind her back, but not Jack. He loved her.
“So, is Thomas keeping you busy Jack?” Helena asked over her shoulder. She gave the dough two quick punches before flipping it into the air and slamming it against the prep table.
“Yeah, my first break today,” Jack replied. He always spent it in the cafeteria.
“Well, you’re right on time,” Helena said. “You probably can’t smell it over the grease and oil of this god forsaken ship, but the sticky buns are cooled and ready to be eaten. I saved the biggest one for you.”
“Thank you, Helena,” Jack said with a smirk. He wasn’t overly fond of her sticky buns, not because of the flavour, but he found them far too sweet. Jack ate them anyway, and always with a giant smile.
Helena stuffed the dough into a giant metal bowl and fastened a cover onto it. She smacked her hands together and a white cloud of flour puffed into the air. She picked up a large tray with a white and red towel draped over it and set it on the counter in front of Jack. She smiled as she wiped her hands on her apron. Her cheeks were flushed and beads of sweat formed like dew on her forehead. Helena, like a magician’s assistant, yanked the cloth from the tray.
“Ta da,” she said and giggled. Jack loved her laugh. The aroma of the fresh pastries overwhelmed the grime of the rickety spacecraft, filling Jack’s nostrils with the pleasant aroma of home.
“I don’t know what this ship would do without you, Helena,” Jack said, grinning at her as she served him the giant sticky bun.
“Ah, I’m sure they’d find someone else in no time,” she replied, dabbing her forehead a rag.
Jack tore a large piece from the bun and gobbled it down. Helena always watched, eagerly anticipating his approval. He flared his eyes and nodded.
“I’s gewd,” he mumbled with a mouthful.
“You know, you’ve been here every day for the last month and I still don’t know where you’re from,” Helena said as Jack swallowed his first bite.
“Halifax, Nova Scotia, born and raised.”
“Really? I thought I heard an accent,” Helena said with a grin. She walked around the counter, picked up her stainless steel coffee mug and sat down next to Jack. “It’s cute.”
Jack blushed. He dropped and shook his head, feeling like a small fool.
“What?” Helena asked, gently nudging him in the ribs with her elbow.
“Nothing, you just embarrassed me is all,” Jack replied. He ate another piece of the pastry. “Where are you from?”
“New York, believe it or not,” Helena said with a sly smile. Jack had assumed as much, she too had an accent, although not nearly as obvious as his own. “So, don’t mess wit’ me.”
They both laughed.
“What did you do back on Earth?” Helena asked. She took a sip of her coffee.
“Same thing I do here, keep things clean,” Jack said. He was slightly ashamed to admit he was a janitor, but Helena didn’t seem to mind. She just kept on smiling. “What did you do?”
“Oh god, do you really want know?”
He did; more than anything he wanted to know her, who she was beyond that perfect smile and sparkling eyes. Jack nodded.
“I was a jazz musician,” Helena said shaking her head. She was trying not to laugh.
“What’s wrong with that? I love jazz,” Jack said. He really did love jazz; as a boy he had wanted to play the trumpet, but his mother had little money to help Jack realize his dream.
“Nothing, I guess. It’s just so different from what I do now. That all feels so long ago now.”
“What did you play?”
“I was a singer, actually. I had a sultry, alto voice,” Helena replied, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Really? That’s fantastic, why don’t I ever see you over at the bar on karaoke night?”
“I’m pretty busy, Jack.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you weren’t,” Jack said. He couldn’t imagine she was stuck in the cafeteria all day. Surely there was someone else who took over in the evening. Jack didn’t honestly know because he only came here during his morning break.
“No, it’s alright hun, no need to apologize.”
Helena finished the last of her coffee and got up from her seat. Jack checked his watch; his break had been over for ten minutes already. He had never been late before.
“Damn it, I’ve gotta run Helena,” Jack said hopping to his feet. “Thanks for the bun and the conversation.”
“Of course, Jack,” Helena replied. She reached behind her back and untied her apron. There was an announcement over the intercom as Jack gathered his things.
“Captain Richardson to command, Captain Richardson to command.”
“Looks like my break is over too hun,” Helena said with a grin. She had opened up a cabinet next to the oven and pulled out a neat pile of folded clothes. They were dark blue. “Guess I better get out of these grubby clothes.”
Helena only smiled and kissed Jack’s cheek as she walked past him and out of the cafeteria.
With a skip in his step, Jack went back to cleaning.