The wedding was at a camp for rich people just outside Charleston. The differences between a regular summer camp and a rich-adult camp are subtle, but distinct. Both may be set in the woods, on a lake, and feature quaint hand-painted wood signs to direct you to the mess hall. But, at rich-people camp, as I soon discovered, all bugs are somehow banished from the premises — even with the window open in my cabin, I never once saw a mosquito or a spider during the entire weekend. The cabin construction at rich-people camp was the familiar log style, but more precise, with no cracks and drafty spaces for nighttime forest chill to creep in. Artisanal wood carvings surrounded the doors, and the ice box held a single large hand-carved chunk, fresh from the lake and replaced each day by a freckled teen girl. At rich-people camp, the men looked softer, less hardened by actual wood-chopping or ground-pooping.
I arrived at the camp Friday evening, when the parents of the bride threw a catered barbecue for all out-of-town guests. The dinner was held on a neatly groomed softball field, about a quarter of a mile from the cabins. Old money and a hint of judgment hung in the air. I nervously looked around for someone to latch onto.
Jen, the bride at this destination wedding, is a work friend, but I had also recently been promoted to be her supervisor, which made things between us a little confusing at times. While I liked to think of myself as her mentor — I was seven years older than she was — the complicated nature of our relationship probably came off more as a creepy aunt and cool niece. Still, I felt honored to be invited to her nuptials.
At that moment, though, I felt more awkward that anything else. I was restlessly balancing a Styrofoam plate of potato chips in one hand and swirling a beer in the other hand, chatting with Jen’s approachably unattractive cousin about “what a pleasant, cool weekend it turned out to be,” when I saw him.
I swear to God, I heard Aerosmith’s “Angel” play in my head when I laid eyes on this man. He was one of those guys that can actually make your jaw drop. I caught a glimpse of his abs underneath his ironic Hawaiian shirt: It looked like he was housing six sleeping kittens between his nipples and crotch. I was far too intimidated by his whole “Man of Steel” thing to talk to him — which was just as well, because as I soon learned, this was Max, Jen’s very off-limits younger brother.
The next night, a light rain pushed the wedding ceremony from its planned locale by the lake to the cramped but covered log porch of the social cabin. Guests sweated in the heavy air, jockeying for a good view of the bride. The reception, held in the camp’s tasteful cafeteria, featured square-dancing and ice-cream cones. Fancy-looking women giggled as their chocolate soft-serve dribbled into sweaty cleavage.
Post-reception, Jen’s nearest and dearest gathered in social cabin for a more raucous after-party. Well-liquored by this point, I had stripped down to a less-constrictive American Apparel romper, and drank bourbon straight from the bottle as I mingled between Jen’s friends. Feeling the fire of liquid confidence, I sidled up to Max by the fireplace and attempted not to slur as I asked him about his work as a nanosystems engineer. (Yup. Abs and brains.)
My sloppy seduction attempt worked. By 4 a.m., Max was in the tiny bed in my cabin, where we had sex twice. In those wee hours of the morning, my brain sloshed with cheap bourbon, liquid marijuana, and DEET, I had managed to convince myself that Max was not, in fact, the baby brother of one of my closest friends and employees.
But one broken condom, awkward early-morning exit, and dose of Plan B later, that fact was back in the front of my mind, stubbornly refusing to leave. I prayed that Jen would never find out. How was I going to look her in the eye and tell her to rewrite a client proposal when I’d slept with a member of her immediate family? I considered just owning up to it, but didn’t want to get Max in trouble.
Back in the office, I tiptoed around Jen, pretending to be busier than usual and unable to engage in small talk. Jen, worryingly, also seemed more distant. Her email responses were curt, and she left the office without saying good-bye. Did she know? After two days of office awkwardness, I summoned the courage to ask her if everything was okay.
“Some things have been bothering me,” she admitted. I swallowed hard and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk.
As it turns out, Max had confessed his sins to Jen the very day after the wedding.
I let her yell at me for a solid hour as we strolled across the landscaped office park. It was only fair. I felt slightly better when Jen told me that I wasn’t the only one who got in trouble that night — Jen’s college friend had kissed her sister, and yet another friend stripped completely naked in front of the entire social cabin after Max and I had retreated. Still, knowing I wasn’t the only one on the hook for bad behavior was only so much comfort. No one should have to deal with their boss having sex with their little brother.
Luckily, Jen is pretty laid back. We got past it, and remain friends, albeit friends with an unspoken agreement never to mention “the incident” again. After a year, though, Jen started letting stories about Max slip back into her conversations with me — like the time he severed his hand while sabering a bottle of Champagne. (Apparently Max just makes a lot of bad decisions.) I haven’t spoken to Max since the wedding, although I couldn’t help but stalk him on social for a few weeks afterward. Ultimately, nothing — not even those abs — are worth the guilt.