A feel-good, coming-of-age rom-com from debut author Page Powars that follows a trans teen who joins a boyfriend borrowing service masquerading as an Italian Club to prove that he’s one of the guys, especially to its frustratingly handsome leader.
Noah Byrd is the perfect boy. At least, that’s what he needs to convince his new classmates of to prove his gender. His plan? Join the school’s illustrious (and secret) Borrow a Boyfriend Club, whose members rent themselves out for dates. Once he’s accepted among the bros, the “slip-ups” end.
But Noah’s interview is a flop. Desperate, he strikes a deal with the club’s prickly but attractive president, Asher. Noah will help them win an annual talent show—and in return, he’ll get a second shot to demonstrate his boyfriend skills in a series of tests that include romancing Asher himself.
If Noah can’t bring home the win, his best chance to prove that he’s man enough is gone. Yet even if he succeeds, he still loses . . . because the most important rule of the Borrow a Boyfriend Club is simple: no real boyfriends (or girlfriends) allowed.
And as long as the club remains standing as high as Asher’s man bun, Noah and Asher can never explore their growing feelings for one another.
An Excerpt fromThe Borrow a Boyfriend Club
The last thing I expected to see on my first day at Heron River High was FA LA LA LA FUCK THIS SCHOOL spelled atop the snow in festive holiday lights.
Crowds of my new classmates gathered around the flickering green and red profanity. Three teachers gesticulated at the students to keep walking, but no one paid attention. Instead, the kids lingered, taking pictures with their phones.
When Mom and Dad asked during our weekly burger night what my new school was like, this would not be mentioned.
As I passed by, I pulled the hood of my puffer jacket down lower over my forehead, just in case someone felt like the new kid was more interesting than a flashing f-word. Once inside the building, I quickly found the main office.
My heart rate picked up. Game time.
I gripped my backpack straps tighter and kept up my turtle impersonation until the office doors shut behind me. The administrative assistant, who somehow didn’t appear a day over twenty, was bundled in a festive argyle cardigan. He pressed a phone between his ear and shoulder as he typed on a laptop, sweat beading above his brow. On the countertop, a nameplate had Sonny written in cursive.
“Fa la la la what, now?” he murmured. Sonny was in a bad mood.
My shoulders shrank into my narrow frame. I tried to snap them back into a loud and proud position. A masculine, broad, very much boy position.
Everything would go fine today. I’d been transitioning for years. I passed.
Sonny, the admin assistant, muttered something along the lines of I’ll get back to this later and hung up the phone. He gave me a fake smile. “Welcome back from winter break.”
As I stepped up to the counter, students passed by the fancy domed window framing the downtown streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’d heard rumors that Heron River High was disgustingly nicer than Pinewood High, and the admin office alone proved that. Its sparkly white walls and chrome furniture were ten times better than Pinewood’s brick hallways lined with rusty lockers. Whoever wrote the twinkling profanity by the front doors seemed misguided.
“I’m actually a new junior here,” I said. “I transferred from Pinewood. My name’s Noah. Noah Byrd.”
“Anything I can help you with? Class schedule good to go?”
“Yeah. The vice principal emailed it to me last week. But I was wondering if I could get more information on how to join the boys’ sports teams?”
“Which team?” Sonny asked.
It didn’t matter which one. All that mattered was joining something ASAP. By the end of the semester, I had to show everyone who I was. I wasn’t about to let my classmates draw their own conclusions about me again, and a boys’ sports team emblem pinned to my chest would establish who I was from the start. The less time they had to develop their own ideas, the better.
I considered which sport would destroy my scrawny body the least. A non-contact sport. “Tennis?”
He gave me a once-over. “I can email you a list of our sports, if you’d like. That would include more information on the tennis team. Unfortunately, there aren’t any tryouts during the winter semester, but you could try to join in August.”
My heart sank. It was only January. I couldn’t wait that long. “There’s really no boys’ team that will let me join now? Don’t some seasons start in the winter?”
“They do, but we require our students to sign up and pay any necessary registration fees for their sport during the first week of the school year.” Sonny typed a bit more, then turned the screen to show me a spreadsheet labeled Heron River High School After-School Student Clubs. “Most of our clubs accept new recruits during both semesters, though. If you’re hoping for an extracurricular to hold you over, how about you check these out?”
I pulled his laptop toward me and scrolled through the club names, keeping an eye out for any words that sounded overtly masculine. They had French and Spanish. No and no. Anime. Nope. Classic literature. Not quite. Math. God, no. Dance.
Definitely, definitely not dance.
I kept scrolling. Something called the Football and Lamborghini After-School Club eventually showed up on row eleven.
My insides recoiled. I had no clue what this club was, but being that enthusiastic about football and cars was maybe too manly. The goal wasn’t to stand out here. I wanted to blend in like a normal teenage guy.
There had to be another choice.
Four more rows passed by, offering debate, sculpture, film, and, finally, chess. Then I skimmed back up to the top again in case I’d missed something.
I had not.
I faced Sonny again. If no sports teams would let me try out this semester, then there were no other options. I swiveled the laptop back around. “How do I join this football and cars thing?”
Sonny scrolled on his laptop. “Hm. I can’t sign you up. You need approval from the club president.”
“There’s an interview process,” a voice said from behind me.
Startled, I spun around. A boy my age with light tan skin sat in a chair against the wall. His legs were so long that they stretched across nearly half the office, his chunky red Prada sneakers only a foot away from my worn Converse. I hadn’t noticed him when I first came in.
“For just a football and car club?” I asked.
“Yep. You need to go to one of their weekly meetings first.”
“Quiet,” Sonny called his way. “You’re in the main office for defacing school property. Not to chat with your classmates.”
The boy defensively tossed up his hands, and I saw that his fingers were dripping with silver rings. His smirk was as chaotic as his mess of brown hair, which was half tied into a lopsided bun, the rest falling loosely above his shoulders.
This must’ve been Mr. Fa La La La Fuck This School.
“So, I might not be allowed to join?” I asked Sonny.
He shrugged. “That’s what their club rules say.”
What kind of person would make people interview for a basic school club? “Their president sounds like a prick,” I mumbled.
“He’s actually pretty great,” Mr. Fa La La said behind me. Clearly, my voice hadn’t been low enough.
A door swung open, and a woman in a fancy maroon suit stepped forward. A plaque on the door read Principal’s Office. “Mr. Price. A word--”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He rose to his feet using the chair armrests, slung a canvas tote bag covered in environmental patches over his shoulder, and disappeared into the principal’s lair.
Even if there was a chance I wouldn’t be accepted into this bro-of-all-bro clubs after going through the president’s ridiculous interview process, I had to try. This was the clearest, and currently only, way to make sure these students knew exactly who I was.
I was a boy just like Mr. Fa La La. I had always been a boy. This time, no one at school would question that.
I faced Sonny again. “One last question. Do you know where this football and Lamborghini club meets?”
As the bell rang at the end of my sixth-period chemistry class, I kept my head tucked into my hoodie and followed the hallway signs toward the theater, where the Football and Lamborghini After-School Club met on Mondays and Wednesdays until four o’clock.
How did such a cringe club even exist?
I entered through the main audience doors. The theater was an expanse of red velvet seats and fancy carpeting that reached up to a balcony. Heron River High was certainly living up to the “fanciest public school in Ann Arbor” rumors.
In the lower bowl, there were clumps of students with bound scripts and snacks on their laps. To my left, a girl spoke very dramatically to a wall about how aliens were taking over the world. I didn’t recognize the scene she was rehearsing. At least, I hoped she was rehearsing.
I cleared my throat to snag her attention. “Do you know where the Football--?”
The girl thrust a finger at the stage. “Follow the signs for the basement. There’s a door backstage right.”
“Oh. Uh. Thanks.”
As I headed backstage, some people stopped munching on their veggies and chips to watch me. Nerves flooded up into my face and down into my toes. So far, I’d survived my first day at Heron River High without being noticed much. Before each class began, all the teachers had asked if I wanted to be introduced in front of the room, and each time, it was a very hard pass. And in most classes, my assigned seat was some leftover desk in the back. Walking across a literal stage now was going from zero to ten real quick.
I had no clue what these drama kids were thinking when they saw me. For all I knew, they were just like the students at Pinewood High School. Never subtle with their stares. Never correcting their so-called slipups because they didn’t care enough to remember my name.
My time front and center lasted six seconds, which felt like six years, and then I was backstage.
Three students faced a solid metal door in the corner. One of them, a fit boy who wore a varsity football jacket with the last name Ngo on the back, paired with ugly orange joggers, shoved a hand inside a party-sized bag of spicy cheese puffs.
This had to be the place.
Two other students stood in front of the boys, guarding the door. One was a pretty Black girl in a pink blouse and tulle skirt, which hung off her slender frame like a ballet tutu. Her brown coily afro had a smattering of blond highlights.
The second girl, a whole head taller than the first, had a light-olive complexion and a slicked-back black ponytail. She sported a bold red pantsuit and cat’s-eye-glasses combination, and a notebook with a Trust me, I’m in charge sticker was pressed against her chest.
Was I in the right place?
The girl in charge smiled so brightly that her whole face crinkled. “Good afternoon, boys! You almost didn’t make it on time.”
Spicy Cheese Puffs rolled his eyes as he wiped a dusty hand on his jeans before plugging numbers into the insulin pump on his hip. “Who cares?”
“Asher,” she responded, still smiling.
“Figures. He really needs to chill on the micromanaging.”
That must’ve been the president. The one I had to impress.
I stepped closer and waved. “Is this where--”
They were already disappearing behind the mysterious metal door.
“--the interviews are,” I muttered to myself as it closed shut.
I followed. The door creaked open to reveal a steep, dark, wooden staircase. A cool draft blew past me, raising the hairs on the back of my neck.
I swallowed hard and headed down the stairs, which moaned with each step. Either I was lowering myself into an after-school cult or the pits of Hell. Some source of light from below the staircase started stretching along the walls.
This was the basement. A normal, cluttered theater basement that smelled like mothballs and wet dirt. The room was split into several narrow lines of costume racks, leaving hardly any space between them, like in a warehouse.
This place appeared abandoned. What happened to the others?
And then I heard mumbling sounds come from somewhere past the sea of costumes.
I headed toward them, shoving my body through the mess. Puffy dresses scratched against my cheeks. Belts and ties drooped to the dusty floor like snakes, threatening to trip me at any moment. Finally, the path led into a room.
The dusty concrete floor led to maroon carpeting as fuzzy as dandelion fluff. The cement walls were draped in matching curtains with rhinestone embellishments that glistened in the fluorescent lights. Playing cards in the hearts suit were stuck to and scattered across the ceiling. Way-too-thick cologne replaced the scent of mothballs.
At the very back, multiple mini fridges, an electronic keyboard, and seven or so boys surrounded a billiards table. A few hovered around the table while others slung themselves across bright-red pleather love seats. Above them hung a red flag with a logo at the center: two Bs faced back to back, forming the shape of a heart.
Two guys held cue sticks. The one on the left was Asian American and had cotton-candy-blue hair with slightly grown-out roots. Combined with his rainbow-patterned jacket, he could’ve been a movie star. He was aligning the tip of his stick with the cue ball, about to make his next move. The other had a light-brown complexion and wore a knit sweater and collared undershirt. A laptop labeled with Camilo Torres rested nearby him as he sat on the edge of the table, bored.
Bored. In a bizarre underground club like this.
Had I tripped down the basement stairs and slammed my head too hard?
I stepped deeper into the basement. “Hello?”
My voice rang out right as the one with blue hair pulled back his cue stick. He yelped.
The boy looked familiar, but I couldn’t place from where. With hair as loud as his, I’d probably spotted him walking around downtown. “Sorry!” he said. “You caught me off guard.”
“Who left the door unlocked?” that Camilo guy asked. “A customer broke in.”
The two girls who guarded the door earlier stared at me, stunned. The one holding the notebook reached into her pantsuit blazer pocket to pull out a key ring. “I locked it, Camilo.”
He pointed my way without breaking eye contact with her. “Using what? The imaginary knob?”
Pastel Blue Hair Boy waved his hand dismissively through the air as he walked over to me. “No worries! We’re technically only open to customers on Wednesdays, but that’s okay. What type of boyfriend are you looking for?”
A bleating sound propelled out of my mouth. “What am I what?”
Camilo hopped off the table. Now that he was no longer seated, I could see he was nearly as short as me, and notes written in black pen ink were scribbled all over his hands. Politics club send newsletter and #88-101 chapter 3.2 were the only decipherable ones.
The human to-do list moved closer, glaring my way. “Lenny, I can’t place a name to this person. They don’t go to our school.”
Pastel Blue Hair Boy, aka Lenny, held up his cue stick as a sword. “STAY BACK, NARC!”
Others in the room made various startled noises and leaped off the love seats as backup. Meanwhile, Camilo pushed up his turquoise glasses and muttered, “Do you even know what that means?”
I threw my hands up. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! No! I’m here because I want to interview for your club!”