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Three's a Crowd at the Starlight Diner

Three’s a Crowd at the Starlight Diner

Copyright © Helen Cox.

ISBN: 9781310526381

First published in 2016.

Published in the United Kingdom.




































Thank you for downloading the third, free short story in [+ The Starlight Diner series+]. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who have read these little introductions to the world of my first novel. If you haven’t already found them, there are two other Starlight Diner short stories to read before you read this one: [+ Hot and Cold at the Starlight Diner+] and [+ Off Stage at the Starlight Diner+].


If you enjoy these stories, please consider supporting my writing by writing a review, sharing it with your friends on [+ Facebook+] and Twitter or by pre-ordering my first novel Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner.


More information about me, Helen Cox, and my upcoming novels is available on my author blog, through my author [+ Facebook Page+] and through the Starlight Diner Twitter feed.


There are so many ways to get in touch with me because I love to hear from you all. Thank you so much for all the support you’ve offered me with my writing. It means so very much to me.


I hope you enjoy Three’s a Crowd at the Starlight Diner.
































JULY 1990]


Electricity, that’s what sparked through me as Nathan brushed the back of his hand against the back of mine. He was lightning-quick about it so the work crowd, or what was left of them at this time of night, didn’t notice. It was a secret signal that he wanted me to himself. All I had to do was follow him down into the subway tunnel. There, we could blur into one another, and forget everybody else.

I chewed on my lower lip and stared at an elderly fella playing the banjo on the corner where Lafayette meets Bleecker Street. Whatever I did, I couldn’t look at Nathan. If I looked at him, everyone would know how desperate I was to kiss him, that much I was sure of.

‘You two taking the F back to Brooklyn?’ asked Marcie, who’d been my boss since I moved to the city two months ago. She smoked the end of her cigarette, stubbed it out on the sidewalk and gave me a wink that couldn’t have been less subtle if she tried. Maybe it was her false eyelashes that made such a small move seem so big. Or maybe the number of Mojitos I’d watched her guzzle during our Thursday night, after work get-together made her incapable of doing anything in any way understated. Whatever her reason was for being so shameless, she was making my cheeks burn.

I hadn’t outright told her about me and Nathan, but I hadn’t needed to. She’d worked in the PR department at Venus Athletics for seven years. If you worked anywhere in that building, she knew what was happening to you before you did.

‘Uh, yeah, if you want to see me anywhere near the ten o clock mark tomorrow, I gotta get home and get some sleep,’ I smiled.

‘Me too,’ Nathan said, ‘I’m beat.’

‘Uh-huh,’ Marcie swished her long, auburn hair over her left shoulder and crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn’t small up top and as she did this she pulled at the fabric of her beige, short wool jacket to the point where I could almost hear the brown buttons groaning under the strain.

‘Well, guess I’ll see you all tomorrow,’ I said just loud enough to give away how on edge I was. Marcie was a pal, as well as a boss, but she’d been drinking and could blurt out something suggestive in front of my other colleagues at any second.

It was particularly important that didn’t happen because we had Vivian, the office gossip, out with us. She had a pinched little face that resembled a pet gerbil I had as a kid and her hair was an unfortunate, mousy brown that she’d had permed tight so it bounced in little springs out of her head.

Somehow, Marcie aside, we’d kept what was going on a secret, and that wouldn’t last if Vivian found out. She was a woman so dissatisfied with her own life she made it her business to rain misery down on everybody else. She hadn’t raised a smile all night and, even as I was leaving, I could’ve sworn she was narrowing her eyes at me. That said, it was so hard to tell. Her face had a permanent scowl on it anyway.

Rather than putting up with her beady stare any longer, I waved at the small group of familiar faces and scurried down the steps, trying to ignore the smell of stale nicotine and thinking instead about how fine Nathan smelt when I got close to him. Sort of fruity, like a blend of apple and lime.

‘See y’all tomorrow,’ I heard Nathan’s voice say. I slowed my descent then, knowing he couldn’t be that far behind me. Knowing, from his vantage point, he’d be taking in how tight my black pencil skirt clung around my hips. A few seconds later, a strong arm, clothed in a smart, midnight blue jacket, wrapped itself around my shoulder and pulled me into his body.

I gazed up into his eyes, which like mine were a deep brown but, unlike mine, were framed by a pair of glasses. He was adorably self-conscious about them, and had opted for the thinnest frames the optician would sell him.

‘Fancy meeting you here,’ he said, with a playful note in his voice, just like he had the last couple of times we’d done this.

In our fantasy we were just two innocent strangers fate kept throwing together, late at night on the subway. In our fantasy nothing and nobody stood between us being together. In our fantasy nobody was getting hurt.

‘It is a coincidence that I should bump into you again,’ I batted my eyelashes, just once and Nathan gave me a grudging smile.

‘C’mon,’ he said, grabbing my hand, fishing a couple of tokens out of his pocket for the subway and pulling me through the turnstile, down to the platform.

Looking into the blackness of the tunnel, rather than at me, Nathan entangled his fingers with mine. Real casual-like. As though his hand was acting without his say so.

Meanwhile, I closed my eyes and focused every thought on how his skin felt against mine.

A familiar gust of musty air blew over me, fanning back my long brown hair which I’d taken the time to crimp, knowing we’d be going out after work that night. When I opened my eyes, Nathan was staring at me. His breathing deep. His dirty-blonde hair ruffling as the train stormed towards us. I sighed, and shook my head at him. How was anybody supposed to work with a guy who looked like this and not get ideas?

The train slowed and there looked to be only a couple of other passengers in the carriage that stopped in front of us. The second the subway doors opened Nathan jumped on board and pulled me on behind him. The next thing I knew, he had me pressed against the doors at the other side of the carriage. Heat surged through me as his mouth pushed against mine. His hands gripped at my hips while my fingernails clawed at the back of his shirt underneath his suit jacket, my desperation for him hidden.

Nathan pulled back to catch his breath but kept his face just a couple of inches from mine.

‘I lied to myself this morning,’ he said, planting a soft kiss on my left cheekbone before staring back into my eyes. His face had a sort of helpless look about it. ‘I told myself, I’d stay for one drink. Two at the most. That I’d take the subway home at eight thirty and that whatever happened, I wouldn’t kiss you.’

I lifted my hand up to his face and stroked along his jawline. ‘This is all my fault. I turned a good guy bad.’

‘Oh yeah, before you came along, I was a real boy scout,’ Nathan grinned and did a little salute with his right hand.

‘I bet you were,’ I teased. ‘And then I had to go and kiss you.’

‘Alright, so you kissed me first but I didn’t have to kiss you back. There are about a million other more noble things I could’ve done, but I didn’t. And you know that.’ He looked long into my eyes in a way that made me want to forget this conversation all together, but something nagged at me in the pit of my stomach. Guilt, I guess.

‘Yeah, but I shouldn’t have put you in that position,’ I said, while running a distracted hand through his soft, thick hair, an action I’d day-dreamed about all day at the office.

‘Angela, come on, I’m not doing any better at resisting you than you are me.’ Nathan kissed my right cheek this time and then nudged my nose with his.

‘I know,’ I nodded.

Physically, what Nathan was saying made sense. Physically, he was just as hopeless as I was when it came to keeping our hands off each other. But deep down, I was making a mistake he wasn’t.

I’d talked myself into the idea that kissing Nathan would relieve the pressure that’d been building in my gut since I first met him six weeks ago. That it’d satisfy the hunger I felt for him. But that was all wrong. Kissing Nathan had only made me want him more, and now I was falling for him.

A man who wasn’t mine to fall for.

Looking deep into Nathan’s eyes, I tried to keep the crack out of my voice as I spoke: ‘You love her, don’t you?’ I was talking about his girlfriend, Theresa, who he’d been seeing for more than a year now.

He pulled his head away from mine, looked down at the floor and then back at me.

‘Yeah,’ he swallowed. ‘You wouldn’t believe it from the way I’ve carried on here, I know, but I do. I admit, if I’d met you first things might’ve been different. But I didn’t.’ He looked into my eyes again. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s OK,’ I lied. ‘I’ve known all along this couldn’t keep happening.’

I’d known all along, but that hadn’t stopped me hoping.

‘I don’t want this to end, you know I don’t, but you’re right and maybe we should stop,’

he sighed. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been so selfish.’

‘So have I.’ I tried to smile but it was probably coming across all crooked. ‘I understand, and it’s going to be OK,’ I said, shrugging in a way that didn’t fool either of us.

‘Come here,’ he said, pulling me into his arms.

Shielded by his body, I shoved my head into his chest and wrapped my arms tight around him. I breathed in the scent of him one last time, and held onto it for as long as I could.





‘Oh God,’ Marcie said, shaking her cigarette into a nearby ashtray, stretching her arm to make double sure not even a speck of ash blew onto her mauve cocktail dress. ‘Don’t look.’

‘He brought her?’ I looked down at my wine glass and then took a trembling gulp of my drink.

‘Yep,’ Marcie took another drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke out off to her left.

I sucked in a deep breath. ‘What does she look like?’

‘Martha Stewart Junior.’

I couldn’t quite manage a giggle when I was about to set eyes on the woman Nathan had chosen over me, but I did smirk.

Turning, I stared across the hotel bar. It was a roof-top terrace in Chinatown decorated with imported exotic plants I probably couldn’t pronounce even if I did know what they were called. We were having a Friday night launch party for our latest line of running shoes: Max Out Sneakers, and the place was brimming with sports retailers, reporters, staff members and their dates. All of whom were enjoying the seventeenth-floor view across to the Empire State Building, and the East River beyond.

Just a few steps from a slender red-head, who wrote for the New York Chronicle and was interviewing the owner of the Step Up sports store on Broadway, stood Nathan. He was wearing the sand coloured suit I’d told him he looked dreamy in once and he’d gelled his hair in a way that gave it a sort of damp and sexy edge. Next to him stood a woman with strawberry blonde hair wearing a modest, mustard skirt suit. She’d rounded off her look with a set of small pearls and a pair of cream court shoes.

It was Theresa.

I looked at Marcie and she frowned back at me.

‘You’re right, she looks like she bakes, and sews and I bet her whites always come out pristine,’ I said, taking another huge gulp of wine and trying not to wonder if the pearls she was wearing were a gift from Nathan.

‘Oh let him marry a square like her,’ Marcie waved a dismissive hand in their direction ‘you’re more interesting even when you’re talking about life back in Connecticut.’

‘Thanks a lot,’ I shook my head, and then glanced over again to see Nathan kiss Theresa’s hand before heading off to the bar. Not a second later Vivian swooped, pushing her face so close to Theresa’s that she took a step backward in surprise.

‘Oooh unfortunate, Vivian’s got her claws into her,’ Marcie said, shaking her head.

‘What do you think she wants to talk to Theresa for?’

‘Oh she always pounces on any unattended spouses at these things. Wants to see what nasty little details she can squeeze out of ’em about the people she works with. Stay here long enough and you’ll know exactly what everyone at the party is up to, even with your back turned.’

‘God, did Vivian never learn about personal space?’ I asked, watching her link an arm through Theresa’s – a woman she met three seconds ago.

‘Yeah, we should probably go help the poor girl,’ said Marcie, picking up her purse.

‘We should?’ I said, my eyes widening as I looked from Marcie to Theresa and back again.

‘Yeah, well. That’d be the decent thing to do,’ Marcie said, stubbing out her cigarette, ‘But, I really need to go to the bathroom. Run a comb through my hair. Check my lipstick. Don’t you?’ she grinned and patted my shoulder.

‘You’re the best,’ I smiled, as we made our way back into the hotel lobby.

Once inside the ladies room, I watched Marcie unpack an unbelievable amount of make-up from the tiniest clutch purse you’d ever see onto the counter next to the sink. How she crammed it all into that space, I’d never know. She had a selection of lipsticks and even an eyelash curler in there.

‘Any idea what time we have to stay here till?’ I asked, while Marcie reapplied black liner to her left eye.

‘Till eight I think.’

‘Oh, what time is it now?’ I asked. ‘My watch doesn’t go with this outfit.’

‘Six-thirty,’ said Marcie, looking at hers.

‘Aw man.’

‘Just have a few more drinks, stay clear of Charles and Di and you’ll be back in your apartment eating a pizza slice before you know it.’ Marcie touched up the liner on her right eye.


‘I promise, it’ll all be over soon,’ she said, winking at me through the mirror.

Sighing, I looked at my reflection and flattened down a few stray hairs that had been blown about by the light breeze sweeping across the terrace. Next, I pulled up the strapless green dress I was wearing into a more decent position. I was never that worried about the neckline slipping down on a night out but there were different rules for a work function.

Green was my colour, it made the brown of my hair look somehow deeper and richer. Plus, it was the colour of jealousy, which I figured was the perfect fit for me just now. No matter how many nice clothes I bought, or manicures or facials I had, I would never be Theresa. I would always be Angela Harris. The girl who grew up in a trailer park in Milford, Connecticut.

‘You gonna stare at your pretty face all day, or are we gonna get a drink?’ Marcie snapped me out of my daydream.

‘Sure,’ I said, ‘c’mon.’

Taking a deep breath, I followed Marcie back out to the party. We’d barely taken five steps across to the bar when I felt a hand grab my arm.

‘Ow, what the – ’

It was Theresa.

Nathan gripped her other arm, trying to hold her back, and Vivian was standing just to the left of them with a thin smile across her gerbil lips. Oh God, what had she said? She couldn’t have known the truth, not exactly. We’d been so careful around the office. Course, just because she didn’t know the truth doesn’t mean she hadn’t made something even worse up, based on her suspicions.

‘I think you’ve got something to say to me,’ Theresa said.

All the blood drained from my body.

‘Theresa, I know you’re upset but please, calm down,’ Nathan said.

‘I am calm,’ she hissed at him and then glared back at me. ‘Well?’

I looked at Nathan and then at Marcie.

‘Come on now, sister,’ Marcie said. ‘You don’t need to get yourself all worked up.’

‘Sister?’ Theresa scoffed. ‘Sister? What’s sisterly about this tramp fooling around with my Nathan?’

‘Theresa, that’s uncalled for,’ Nathan said, cringing.

‘Uncalled for is it? What about this?’ In one swift jolt, Theresa threw her glass of white wine up into my face. ‘Is that uncalled for?’

I yelped in shock as the chilled liquid dripped from my hair and though the party was too big for this incident to get the attention of everyone, a few people nearby gasped or giggled as they saw fit. A small circle was gathering around the show and I could feel tears building behind my eyes.

‘How could you do that?’ Nathan asked Theresa, his mouth hanging open.

‘I could ask you the same question,’ she replied.

‘Look, let’s discuss this in private,’ he said.

‘Why should I? When you’ve publicly made a fool out of me.’

‘That’s not true and nobody deserves this,’ Nathan gestured over at me. Theresa looked at me then, dripping wet and starting to shiver.

‘Well, I guess people don’t always get what they deserve. I think I deserve a faithful boyfriend. I thought I had one,’ Theresa said. ‘And maybe I did until she came along.’

‘You did,’ I said. ‘It’s true that you did. So please, don’t stay mad at him. He loves you.’

Theresa folded her arms and looked harder at me.

‘I can’t undo what happened. All I can do is say that I’m really, really sorry. You have every right to be mad at me but you should know I didn’t do, well, what I did, out of spite or for fun. I – ’ I looked at Nathan and then back at Theresa’s scowling face. ‘I really liked Nathan a whole lot. More than I’ve ever liked anyone else and I got all mixed up about that. And I’m sorry. It was a mistake.’

A silence fell over the three of us. Theresa looked between me and Nathan, trying to decide what to say next. After a moment, I looked down at the stone floor. It was already littered with cocktail sticks and used napkins.

‘C’mon kid, you’ve said all you can here, we should get you home,’ Marcie put her hands on my shoulders and began guiding me towards the exit.

‘Wait, we’re not done here,’ Theresa said.

‘She’s had her heart broken and her hair ruined, isn’t that enough for one night?’ Marcie said.

‘No, it’s not enough, not after what she’s done.’ Theresa’s eyes bore into mine. Marcie leaned between us to break her stare and turned to Theresa. I couldn’t see either of their faces now, only the back of Marcie’s head.

‘The girl said she was sorry.’ I heard Marcie say. ‘She explained herself to you. There’s nothing else she can do about it now and you wouldn’t get that much from a lot of people.’ Marcie’s voice lowered at this point but I strained to hear her add: ‘You’re just making this harder than it needs to be on everyone, you included.’ There was a moment of pause and then Marcie moved again so that Theresa was back in my line of sight.

Though her eyes still flashed with anger she didn’t say anything else. Or move.

Marcie again turned me towards the direction of the door and nudged me forward. Somehow I remembered how to put one foot in front of the other.

‘Oh my God I’m going to die of shame,’ I said, feeling suddenly sick.

‘No you’re not,’ I heard Marcie say from just behind me, ‘you’re just going to wish you could die of shame. There’s an important difference.’




‘Well look at this, someone call The Chronicle she’s not wearing pyjamas,’ Marcie said as I sat down at the table. She’d already ordered me an orange juice and a fruit salad – which is what I had when we went anywhere for breakfast. Starting the day with fruit made it less likely I’d dip into the boxes of doughnuts that seemed to always be floating around the office. Considering the amount of junk food I’d eaten since the party on Friday it was important to start Monday morning right if I still wanted to fit into my work clothes by the end of the week.

‘I’ve been out of pyjamas for twenty-four hours now, thank you,’ I managed to chuckle.

Marcie had swung around to my apartment on Saturday afternoon to see how I was coping after my showdown with Theresa. The broken hearted look isn’t a flattering one on anyone but still Marcie had been a little taken aback to find me dressed in my night clothes at three in the afternoon, crying and clutching the biggest tub of choc-chip ice-cream my corner store sold. The odds of me living this disgrace down anytime soon were slim.

‘Well, since you’re on the mend I guess you can handle me complaining at you for choosing this place for breakfast.’

‘What’s wrong with it? Don’t you think it’s kinda cute?’ I asked, swaying in my seat to Dream Lover, an old fifties tune pumping out of a juke box in the corner.

‘They haven’t got a smoking section,’ Marcie raised her arms to the heavens as though this was a slight against God. ‘I asked the waitress about it, and she said the owner didn’t allow smoking because the smoke turned the ceiling yellow and he’d had to repaint it back in 1969. Can you believe that? The guy’s so cheap he hasn’t painted his ceiling in twenty years.’

‘Aw, well I’m sorry you can’t poison yourself with cigarettes in here but c’mon, you have to admit there’s something pretty homely about it.’ At least that’s how The Starlight Diner, a fifties-themed restaurant on East Houston Street, had felt to me after things ended with Nathan. I couldn’t go out for Thursday night drinks with the work crowd after that so I’d sat in here instead, staring into my coffee whilst trying to convince myself I wasn’t in love with a man who belonged to someone else.

Marcie looked around at the red and white décor and the huge refrigerator stacked with slices of cake and pie. ‘Yeah alright,’ she said. ‘It is kinda cute, and it doesn’t look like there’s a dull moment.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, taking a sip of my orange juice.

‘Well, you were late meeting me – ’ Marcie shoved a fork-full of omelette into her mouth, which, on account of my lateness, she’d nearly finished.

‘Yeah, I know, sorry. I stood on my doorstep for about ten minutes hoping the ground might swallow me up, but it didn’t.’

Marcie rolled her eyes and finished chewing. ‘Well, you missed everything. See that waitress stood at the counter?’

‘The blonde?’

‘Yeah, well, she only walked into work this morning with blood all down her face.’

‘God, is she alright?’ I looked over at the woman, and could just make out a band-aid stuck across her forehead.

‘Seems to be,’ Marcie said with a shrug, ‘from what I overheard she was mugged.’

‘New York gets more dangerous by the minute, I swear it,’ I said, shaking my head.

‘That’s not all,’ Marcie said. ‘See that guy at the counter? The one with thick, dark hair.’

I looked over again, this time at the man Marcie was talking about. He was slouching on one of the counter seats but, despite his God awful posture, it was obvious he was pretty tall, and broad. He had his back to me so it was difficult to make out much else.

‘What about him?’ I asked.

‘He turned around earlier and I got a look at his face. He’s only an actor,’ Marcie raised both eyebrows at the same time.

‘Which actor?’

‘Jack Faber.’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell,’ I shrugged, sticking a fork into a piece of kiwi.

‘Well, you’d know him if you saw his face, and trust me lookin’ at him is not hard work, he’s got a billboard in Times Square for his next movie.’

‘Oh, he just turned around,’ I said, putting a hand on Marcie’s arm. ‘Yeah, I think I have seen his face in Times Square. He is cute, isn’t he?’

‘Yeah, bit older than you though, missy,’ Marcie winked at me.

‘Well, that don’t matter, I’m not exactly going to approach him, am I?’

‘Why not?

‘I’d like to get over the embarrassment of my last love affair before I start the next one.’

‘Give me a break. You think you’re the first girl to come rolling into New York from Connecticut and take up with a guy who was spoken for?’

‘It doesn’t make it right, Marcie.’

‘I ain’t saying it’s right. But what are you going to do? Become a nun over a few stolen kisses?’ She smirked and then sipped her coffee.

‘I guess not,’ I said, playing with a chunk of pineapple. ‘I guess I should just look at it as an experience, one that I don’t want to repeat.’

‘See that? Less than three months in the city and you’re growing as a person.’

‘I’m not sure I’m there yet,’ I smiled. ‘But I guess beating myself up over my feelings for Nathan isn’t going to change anything. I can’t help the way I feel. My big mistake was acting on that impulse.’

‘Difficult to not act on it when you feel that way about a guy.’

‘Yeah, difficult but not impossible. Maybe sometimes just feeling something for someone is enough. Just to love them, you know. Maybe I should just be grateful for that on its own.’

‘Whatever, you lost me three epiphanies ago. Are you going to ask that actor for his number or what?’

‘You think I should?’ I said, looking again at him. The blonde waitress had just given him his cheque so it was obvious he wasn’t going to be around for much longer. If I wanted to make a move, I had to do it now.

‘Yeah, I think a passionate affair with a handsome actor would be good for you. It’ll take your mind off the last mess you got yourself into.’

‘You’re mean without nicotine.’ I shook my head. ‘What if he says no?’

‘Please, have you looked in a mirror this morning? You’re good, now get,’ she pointed a thumb in the direction of the counter, ‘before I decide to keep him for myself.’

‘Alright,’ I fished a pen out of my purse and grabbed a red napkin out of the holder on the table. ‘Here I go.’

Taking a deep breath or two, I walked towards the counter. Even from a few feet away I could hear Jack Faber’s voice. He had a British accent that was beyond sexy and there was a real richness to it that was warm and inviting.

Taking just a second to rearrange my hair around my shoulders, I tapped him on the

arm. He turned and I was met with a set of piercing blue eyes. Gazing into them, I started to wonder whether acting on impulse could have its plus points after all.







Three's a Crowd at the Starlight Diner

Next time you’re in New York, take a turn off Broadway onto East Houston Street. There, you’ll see it: The Starlight Diner. A retro eatery curious enough to delight tourists and locals alike. Fifties tunes stream out of the jukebox long into the night, and it serves the tastiest milkshakes in the five boroughs. Set in New York in the summer of 1990, this story delves into the problematic love life of Starlight Diner regular Angela Harris.

  • ISBN: 9781310526381
  • Author: Helen Cox
  • Published: 2016-06-03 13:35:07
  • Words: 4839
Three's a Crowd at the Starlight Diner Three's a Crowd at the Starlight Diner