Boy plus boy. Two weeks in Johannesburg. A summer of music, adventure, self-discovery . . . and definitely not love. What could go wrong?
Nate needs a date to his cousin’s wedding. Jai is Nate’s best friend and secret crush. Could Jai be Nate’s plus-one—and only?
Nate Hargraves is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. That’s why he dreams of being a songwriter instead of a singer. But things change the summer after junior year as Nate gets ready to fly to South Africa for his cousin’s lavish destination wedding. The trip is bound to be epic. Except—Nate just found out that his ex-boyfriend will be at the reception. Ugh. He does not want to face this one solo.
Jai Patel, Nate’s best friend (and secret crush), has his own problems. The lead singer of Jai’s band, Infinite Sorrow, quit weeks before a contest that promised to be their big break. But Nate rocks Jai’s world when he agrees to sing with the band. Even though Nate’s not one for the spotlight, he knows this is the kind of stuff you do for . . . friends. In return, Jai volunteers to be Nate’s travel buddy around South Africa, a buffer against his ex, and his plus-one at the wedding.
Maybe this summer will be epic after all. Now that Nate’s crush is on board, will love crash the party? Fall in love with this joyful, swoon-worthy rom-com by the author of Date Me, Bryson Keller.
An Excerpt fromNate Plus One
Jai Patel looks sexy when he is onstage.
Or in this case, standing in Lauren Hall’s living room and plucking the strings of his guitar to one of the Weeknd’s songs. It’s Saturday night, and we’re at Lauren’s house for her birthday party, which is always the event of the year.
Jai’s band, Infinite Sorrow, gathers around him as the lead singer, Ross Sherman, belts out the song that has been overplayed on the radio these past few months. Infinite Sorrow is great, as always, but tonight my eyes are only on Jai.
His black, shoulder-length hair is down, and he’s wearing a T-shirt with ripped sleeves and skinny black jeans, also ripped. Sweat coats his warm brown skin as he sways to the rhythm of the song.
“If you stare any harder, Nate, Jai will be permanently burned into your retinas,” whispers Gemma Roth, one of my two best friends. She is an aspiring fashion designer, and this party has provided her with the perfect opportunity to showcase her work. She’s wearing a two-color jumpsuit that stands out against her pale skin. The front is red, the back black. Her ink-black hair is tied into a bun, revealing her ears and eight piercings--five in her right, three in her left.
My jeans and Final Fantasy T-shirt pale in comparison to Gemma’s well-thought-out, flashy outfit. Some people are born for the spotlight, like Gemma and Jai, whereas I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. It’s why I dream of being a songwriter instead of a singer.
“This is me just supporting my best friend and his band,” I whisper back with a wink. “It’s totally innocent staring.”
Maybe in the past Gemma would have believed me, but we both know that Jai also happens to be a boy who, more and more, is starting to make me feel certain things. It wasn’t always like this. At first he was simply a friend--a close one. But over time my feelings have grown into something more.
I can say with certainty that I have a crush on Jai.
“Sure,” Gemma says. “And I’m secretly a princess who will be swept off to a fictional European country by my posh estranged grandmother.” Gemma made me binge-watch most of Anne Hathaway’s filmography over one weekend last summer, which of course included The Princess Diaries. Ever since Gemma discovered the old but never-out-of-style masterpiece that is The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway has become her favorite actor. She has seen the movie more times than I can count. It should be noted that “Anne’s very unsupportive boyfriend was and will always be trash.” Gemma’s words, not mine.
“Here,” Gemma says. She hands me one of the two red Solo cups that she’s holding. I take a sip. The beer is warm and sour. I’ve never been much of a drinker, and I skipped Lauren’s party last year because he’d been too busy to go.
I take a large gulp of beer to chase away the bitter memories. I would rather not spend my night thinking of him. In my haste, I swallow hard and end up choking.
“Easy there, tiger.” Gemma pats me on the back. “We have work tomorrow, remember?”
I shoot her a death glare. “I was all for skipping tonight,” I remind her. “You wanted to come.”
“And aren’t you happy you did?” Gemma says. She tilts her head toward Jai, in the throes of the song he’s playing. “You would have missed this.”
Gemma rests a hand on my shoulder. “You know, a crush stays a crush unless you actively do something about it.”
I can’t say anything to that. And I don’t need to, because judging by the knowing smirk on Gemma’s crimson lips, she understands she’s won. Sometimes best friends are insufferable.
Just after midnight, Infinite Sorrow finishes their set, and they leave the makeshift stage behind. I’m standing alone with my still-half-full cup (or is it half-empty?) of even warmer beer. Gemma has disappeared to be the social butterfly that she is, leaving me to peacefully ogle Jai.
I mean, the band. I was totally listening to the music.
Jai walks up to me. He runs a hand through his sweat-dampened hair and smiles.
“How are we?” he asks. He sounds so happy, so satisfied, that it makes me smile too.
“Fantastic,” I say. “As always.”
“You’re biased,” Jai teases. It’s true, but not for the reasons he’s thinking. Of course, I’m still a massive fan of the band. But now I’m an even bigger fan of Jai Patel.
Jai peers down at my cup. “Are you going to finish that?” I hold it out to him. “Thanks,” he says.
I watch as he brings the cup to his lips and takes a slow sip. The fact that my lips touched that very cup moments ago is almost too much for me to handle.
God, teenage hormones are wild AF.
Ross comes over to us, holding his own Solo cup. He’s rolled up the sleeves of his T-shirt and is showing off his toned arms. According to some fans of Infinite Sorrow, Ross should be the sole object of fangirl desire. I mean, I can’t argue with that. With his curly black hair and piercing blue eyes, he is attractive.
But he still does not compare to Jai Patel. And I will be hearing no further arguments on that matter--looking at you, @IloveRoss1--thank you very much.
Ross pulls Jai into a hushed conversation, and I check my phone to avoid eavesdropping. Mom sent a text telling me she’s on her way to pick me up. We agreed that I would stay until she punched out at midnight. With Jai’s performance over, I can’t say that I have any desire to linger at the party.
Jai laughs at something Ross says, which draws my attention to them. They’re standing close together. Very buddy-buddy. Sometimes--and I know this is really petty of me--I’m jealous of Ross, that he shares something with Jai that I don’t. As a fan and not a member of Infinite Sorrow, I will always be on the outside looking in.
You had your chance, a bitter thought reminds me. And it’s true.
Before Ross was chosen as the lead singer of Infinite Sorrow, Jai had offered me the chance to audition. He knew I could sing and that I was a fan of their songs. And while a part of me did want to try out, I flashed back to the time I was twelve years old and Mom let me go to music camp.
All the campers had to audition for the end-of-summer performance, and of course I was eager to try out just like everyone else. I vividly recall standing onstage the day of the audition. Everyone’s eyes were on me, and when I opened my mouth to sing, I couldn’t produce a single sound. I just stood there, moving my lips in silence like a fish in a tank. That was the birth of my stage fright.
Five years later, I have yet to set foot on another stage.
I spot Gemma across the living room and head over to her. She’s socializing with Alice Wu and Monique Thompson, two of her fellow debate club members. It’s the one club Gemma joined not simply to boost her college applications but because she actually liked it. She’s now one of the most valued members of Wychwood High’s team.
“Mom says she’s on her way,” I tell Gemma. We’ve planned to drop off Gemma at her home.
“Give me five,” Gemma says. “I really need the bathroom.”
“I’ll be outside,” I tell her.
I leave the still-busy space and maneuver my way to the front door. Given the number of people at the party, it takes me longer than it should to finally make it outside. The warm night greets me, and I’m happy to leave the smell of sweat, booze, and hormones behind. I fill my lungs with the fresh, salty air of late spring.
I pull out my phone, and I’m scrolling through Instagram when I feel someone standing next to me. I turn, half expecting it to be Gemma, but it’s not her. It’s Jai.
“There you are,” Jai says, and he almost sounds relieved. “I thought you’d left already.”
I shake my head. “Not yet. I just went to tell Gemma that Mom’s on her way over.”
“I’m going to get the band stuff loaded and call it a night too,” Jai says. Our eyes meet. “Are you working tomorrow?”
I nod. “Yeah. Gemma and I have a shift.”
“Cool,” Jai says. “I’ll swing by the diner then.” He smiles and turns to head back inside the house.
As I watch him step across the threshold, I swallow the desire to tell him that we have school on Monday and he should take it easy tomorrow instead of coming to the diner. Because the truth is that I want to see him. And the promise that I will draws a smile on my face.
I like Jai more and more with each passing day. It’s one of those things that are hard to explain but just happen, like how sometimes it rains when the sun’s still shining or how you can laugh until you cry. Small everyday miracles.
And the more I think about it, even liking Jai Patel was totally accidental. It was totally unavoidable too.
Big Mo’s Diner is where I spend most of my weekends--working. The sizzling of burgers, the shuffling of feet, and the clanging of cutlery are the soundtrack to my shift. Big Mo’s is busy any day that ends in a y, and Sunday is no different. We’re just now starting to see the lull after the evening crowd.
“Can I get two number two specials with a large strawberry milkshake and one cola, please?” I ask the cook and co-owner, Retta Jones.
“You got it, Nathan,” Retta calls back.
Gemma sidles up to me. She’s carrying an empty tray and wearing the green apron that’s part of our uniform.
“Looks like Brody’s got a new girlfriend . . . again,” Gemma says with an exasperated sigh. “It’s Kate from history.”
Brody Miller is the quarterback of Wychwood High’s very own Titans. With his blond hair, blue eyes, and yearlong summer body, Brody is desired by many at school. I was one of them as a freshman--Gemma was too, in sophomore year.
“Really? Kate.” I shake my head. “How many does that make?”
Gemma shrugs. “You would think that by now people would stop falling for his BS.”
“The allure of popularity is intoxicating,” I say. “Dating Brody Miller automatically makes you part of the ‘it’ couple. So are they ‘Brate’ or ‘Krody’?”
“They should be ‘Barf,’ ” Gemma says. “For the record, couple names are disgusting and I hate them.” She turns to me. “Anyway, who has the time for that when we have dreams to chase? In a few months we’ll all be seniors. The pressure is on.” Ever since Gemma stumbled across her older sister watching a marathon of Project Runway, she’s wanted to walk the halls of Parsons School of Design in New York City.
It really does feel like our whole lives depend on this moment and which school we get into. Our dreams are on the line, so I understand the pressure. Fashion school has been Gemma’s goal for so long, and I want this for her. Even if it means we end up on opposite sides of the country.
“Here you go, Nate. Two number twos, strawberry milkshake, and one cola,” Retta says.
“Thanks.” I load my tray and carefully make my way to the diners. “Here you go, Mr. and Mrs. Grant.”
“Thank you so much, Nathan,” Mrs. Grant says.
Big Mo’s Diner is south of Main Street in Wychwood, which is located just west of San Diego. It is a town trying to be a city but failing, and everyone knows everyone.
“Enjoy your meal,” I say. I head back to the counter. There are three other servers besides Gemma and me. The two of us are the only part-timers, though. We got the jobs after Big Mo’s was featured on a show on the Food Network, which turned the diner into the number one hub for everyone who calls Wychwood home and those just passing through. Big Mo is short for Big Moses, the very big man who co-owns the place. His imposing stature made him a rising star in college basketball, but an injury prevented him from going pro. It did not, however, hurt his jovial temperament.
Mom and Retta have been best friends since college. When Retta asked if I’d be interested in working part-time, I jumped at the chance. I also asked if there was an opening for Gemma. That was before Jai moved to town and our friend group became a party of three. Gemma and I have been working the weekend shifts ever since.
With most of the booths empty now, I busy myself with finishing my biology homework before closing. I need to figure out which genes a make-believe baby will inherit from its make-believe parents. The fact that Ms. Crowley is still giving us homework when most of us have already switched into summer break mode is a travesty of justice.
Brody and Kate sit in the corner booth, huddled close together with smiles on their faces. For a moment I feel jealous. I didn’t get to do any of that with my ex.
I will not lose myself going down memory lane. I will not think of him. I turn my focus back to completing my homework, and ten minutes later it’s finished.
I start to wipe down my tables, when Gemma snaps her fingers to get my attention.
“Retta says we can leave when we’re done.” There’s still twenty minutes before closing, but Retta lets us leave early once the evening crowd is on its way out.
“I’ll tell my mom,” I say.
“You haven’t checked your phone, have you?” Gemma asks.
“No, why?” I stop wiping down the table and pull out my phone. There are two unread messages in our group chat.
I’m around. I’ll give you guys a ride home.
The message is from Jai. I guess he’s keeping his word and swinging by. I can’t help but smile.
We’re still cleaning up when the bell above the door announces Jai’s arrival. He’s wearing a cap on backward, a T-shirt with a picture of a surfboard on it, cutoff jeans, and sneakers. He looks every bit like the resident of a coastal town.
Jai folds his lanky frame into one of the booths. He scratches his chin, and I take him all in. My eyes move from his sharp jaw to his proud nose and to his lips, which I wish would meet mine. . . . I shake my head. Now is not the time for this. I’m in public, for heaven’s sake.