Family always comes first, right? When a relative is in need, there is no other reason necessary to convince you to drop everything and, selflessly, lend a hand. That is why there is no deeper bond than by blood. However, a family is not always defined by blood. A choice is also a factor.
When you ask someone to marry you, you are not just asking them to choose to spend their life with you. You are asking them to choose to accept your family as their own and, thus, choosing to accept their family as your own. Of course, even a family member bonded by law and not blood is still family and is entitled to the same love and respect as any other. Yet, when that relative chooses to abuse their entitlement, respect is lost.
Linda must have wondered how different her life could have been had her uncle not made the choice to marry her aunt, Janice. Had he chosen a different path, perhaps it could have saved Linda and her family a ton of stress. Not to mention that Aunt Janice could have seen her life go in a different direction. But if that were the case, Linda could have missed out on the amusement of watching her aunt face the consequences of her actions and see her life unravel right before her eyes.
Linda did not choose for Janice to be her aunt, but she initially chose to accept her as such. But, after Janice abused their familial lawful bond, Linda chose to break it.
Linda always dreamed of making a career out of her artistic talent. She always had a knack for taking another person's ideas and drawing them into reality onto a canvas. Her gift earned her several commissioned pieces, which had been crucial in helping her pay for the very expensive art school she attended. Some of her paid works were upon the request of family members.
Linda's aunt Karen, the wife of her father's brother, Jared, asked her if she could paint a picture of the view of the mountains from her father's gravesite. Linda accepted and painted a stylized acrylic piece depicting the requested scene that would become a personal favorite of the artist's own creations. Karen also adored the piece, breaking into tears upon seeing the final product. Linda was so moved by her aunt's reaction that she initially refused payment. Her appreciation was enough of a reward, not to mention that Karen was not particularly wealthy. Yet, Karen graciously insisted, paying a price larger than Linda would have ever imagined her artwork to be worth.
Linda's career had not yet begun, but she was already living her dream. Her art was not only earning her money, but also the respect and admiration of her family members. Between her commissions and school work, she had her hands full. One could imagine she felt blessed that she did not have to say she knew the life of the "starving artist." If she had, she would have spoken too soon.
Linda was having one the busiest semesters of her college career when she was contacted by her aunt, Janice. Janice was the wife of Linda's father's other brother, William. Janice mentioned to her how impressed she was by the gravesite painting for Karen and she wanted to know if her niece could lend her talents for her own request.
Janice was a real estate agent who had recently been hired by a nationally recognized company. Having seen what Linda could do with a brush, she thought to ask the artist to work on some promotional designs for her, such as logos, flyers, magnets you would find on the rear of a vehicle, and such. Janice even wanted Linda to paint a portrait to be hung in her office, as well as create a design for a full-size mural to be painted on a wall in her office.
Linda knew this would be a bit of an undertaking for her with how demanding the current semester had been. But, she was still willing to help Janice since she was family... by marriage. However, given the time and materials the job would require, she, reluctantly, had to request payment.
"Don't worry about anything," Janice sweetly replied. "I'll pay you."
The deal was made, but Janice also had one condition she wanted to make clear about how Linda should dictate the designs.
"No boats!" she said, adamantly.
Linda, not really being one to paint boats regularly, was initially puzzled by how forcefully she made this request, but she paid no mind. After all, Janice already loved her work, enough that she was willing to pay. The artist could still say, without irony, that she was living the dream. It was almost too good to be true.
Linda began her aunt's assignment her usual way with preliminary sketches. This way, she could send Janice a few rough ideas of the designs she had in mind to get her thoughts and see if the project was going on the right track. Janice did not even bother to comment on the sketches. Instead, she reacted, over text, with some disdain at having been sent products that were "unfinished."
Linda was confused by this reaction, more so than by the oddly direct "no boats" request. She tried to explain to her aunt that she preferred to work by that method, saying that it helps in saving her materials for the finished product instead of wasting them on ideas she may not end up liking.
"My time is just as valuable as your materials," Janice responded, "so please don't waste it."
All Linda could say back was, "OK."
The artist then went all out, spending the following week on an elaborate oil painting of how she envisioned Janice's business logo. She made sure not to include any boats. To avoid wasting any more of her aunt's time, Linda spent her own money to ship the piece to her. Janice hated it and was angry at her, once again, for "wasting her time."
Linda, once again, tried to explain that this sort of situation was the exact reason why she preferred to start with the sketches. Finally, Janice agreed to this fairly reasonable method. Eventually, Linda came up with designs that met Janice's fancy, but not without having to make her own sacrifices. Her grades started slipping, she never had time for her friends, and the expenses for the materials she needed to complete and ship the pieces were piling up. She almost thought to mention the costs to Janice to give her an early idea of what to compensate her with but chose to prolong that conversation. She had finished the oil painting for Janice's office, the logo design, and a decent mock-up of the mural, but still had yet to finish the design for the car magnet.
The absence of the car magnet, alone, was enough to cause further conflict, with Janice accusing Linda of "dragging her feet" on that design. With her patience with this woman wearing thin, the artist suggested that Janice take the design to a local graphic design business to make the magnet. They could easily finish that job, but Linda did not, personally, have the materials do so. This was just not good enough for Janice, who, then, accused Linda of not working hard enough for her aunt (by marriage).
That was all Linda needed to hear to drop everything. She did not bother asking for her artwork back. She did not bother asking about the money. She did not bother to say another word to her aunt. She was done. She refused to lift another overworked finger for someone who could not recognize all the effort she had put in for her. She was even careful not to send anything depicting a boat. From that point on, she would turn her focus on her school work, her social life, and herself.
Linda had not spoken to Aunt Janice for some time since her unruly outburst, until Janice contacted the artist out of the blue. She ended up taking her niece's advice and had the car magnet finished at a local graphic design business. She thanked her for the idea. With that part of the project in the bag, Janice told Linda that she was now ready for her to fly out to her office and paint the mural.
This certainly took Linda by surprise. Especially after how their last conversation had turned out, one would have assumed that Janice would have refrained from enlisting her assistance anymore. Additionally, Linda was past the point of even wanting to help her aunt (by marriage) with anything. But this was no longer an object of "want," at that point. Broke and busy with schoolwork, traveling out to paint this mural was simply not possible.
Since recommending a professional had worked the last time, Linda suggested to Janice that any decent mural painter could take her mock-up and make it happen. Janice did not comply this time. She insisted that she wanted her to do it herself. Linda decided to put the previous issues she had with her aunt behind her and see what she could do.
She spoke to her teachers about taking the following week off. Earning their support, she looked into what the cost for a ticket would be. Janice assumed that, since this would be an opportunity for her to see family as well, Linda would pay for the ticket. Of course, that would not fly. Discussing the matter with her aunt over phone, she apologized to her and explained that she was unable to afford the airfare. Then, she thought that she would attempt to use the power of suggestion once again (because two-out-of-three is not bad) and told Janice that if she would pay her for the work she had already done for her, she could, at least, split the cost with her parents, if they would allow it.
This decidedly reasonable request was the spark that ignited a fire within Janice. Thus, she exploded.
According to Janice, Linda's selfish actions were out of favoritism she obviously had for Aunt Kay over her, since she initially turned down the payment she offered her instead of demanding it from Janice. She followed that up with more accusations of her "dragging her feet" to complete the project.
"I wanted this crap in January and it's almost freaking April," Janice said, to add insult to injury.
Linda tried to interject with a reminder that Janice had agreed, from the beginning, that she would compensate her for her efforts, but she did not back down.
"Do you realize how much doing work for someone like me can mean for someone like you?" Janice retorted. "I'm giving you free advertising because hundreds of people will come in and out of my office every week!"
She added that, by assigning her this commission, she was giving Linda valuable experience that was worth more than any amount of money. Shocked and offended, Linda realized that she had been polite enough. She told her aunt that the work was easy for her and was much like the many pieces she had done in high school. The experience added nothing new to her skillset. Janice told Linda that she was insulting her intelligence.
Linda put down the phone, shaken. She had no idea what to do or who to talk to about this. She did not reach out to her parents. She was unsure if she should talk to her uncle. She sure as heck was not going to talk to her aunt (by marriage). She spent days worrying about what effect this might have on her family. Janice got to see them on a regular basis, while she was in a different part of the country. What would she tell them? That Linda was just a greedy jerk who expected money from family? To protect her reputation and keep the family from getting at each other's throats, was painting the mural worth it?
No. It was not worth it. Adding a boat to the mural out of spite would not have even been worth the effort. Linda was not going to sell her soul to this devil, even if she was her aunt... by marriage. Linda was going to get what she deserved.
The morning after the explosion, Linda met with her school's legal advisor. The meeting was set up by one of her favorite teachers, who was baffled by the story when Linda recounted it to her and immediately called the advisor, one of her best friends, for help. She helped Linda draft a letter stating that, since no legal transfer of ownership had taken place, Janice was to cease using any of Linda's artwork immediately.
They also put together an invoice for her time spent on the pieces, the cost of materials, and the cost of shipping up to that point (which included a very generous 15% family discount). The letter stated that if Janice was to work out a payment plan with Linda, she could continue using the finished pieces.
Linda promptly and proudly emailed the legal materials to Janice. She felt confident in how she was proceeding with this. She was sincerely trying to handle this matter professionally, without involving her parents or her uncle. That was, until about 90 minutes after hitting SEND, when she received a call from her mother.
"Aunt Janice just called and completely chewed me out over what an ungrateful brat you are," her mom said. "What's going on?"
Linda had no choice but to explain everything: the artwork, the explosion, the refusal of compensation, the request to avoid painting boats, and, finally, the legal document she had just sent Janice in retaliation not two hours earlier. She apologized to her mother for not coming to her about it sooner, explaining how she wanted to handle it herself without getting the family involved.
Her mom was furious. Not at Linda, but at Janice. Apparently, this was not Aunt Janice's first rodeo either. She had been riding this bull as long as she had been married to Uncle William. If Linda had spoken to her mom before agreeing to the commission, she would have advised from ever indulging in the request. For that, Linda apologized again. Her mother said it was fine. She was actually impressed with how well Linda was handling the situation. As a professional courtesy, she asked her daughter if she could intervene. Linda accepted.
Linda's mother decided to call Janice's real estate agency. She asked to be put in touch with whom to report that one of their agents was refusing to pay for several thousands of dollars worth of professional promotional materials she had personally commissioned. They put her on the phone with the highest ranking agent in the local area. She relayed the story to him and he was immediately confused. All the local offices, which were under his guidance, had an ongoing contract with a local graphic design company for handling promotional materials. Linda's mom then gave the man her sister-in-law's name. He replied that the company had never heard of Janice before.
Linda thought she knew what shock felt like when her Aunt Janice had berated her over unreasonable circumstances, but she was not prepared to learn that taking action against her aunt would result in her ultimate downfall. Posing as an agent for a nationally recognized, multi-million-dollar real estate company is an offense worth more than just a slap on the wrist. Janice was about to face years of legal trouble. Additionally, given how small the world of real estate was in her state, losing her license was an absolute certainty if the company made the decision to pursue her.
Just when Linda thought that things could not get worse for her poor aunt, another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Her father decided to call his brother (Linda's Uncle William) and tell him what they had discovered about Janice. William was dumbfounded and devastated because her employment was, apparently, not the only thing his wife had been lying to him about.
Around Christmas the previous year, Janice bought herself an $80,000 Cadillac Escalade. She assured William that the vehicle was for work and that her new company, who definitely had hired her, were helping her finance it. But if she had not been part of the company all along, where was the money coming from? William ran a summary of his credit to discover that he had, unwittingly, been the financier of his wife's brand new, $80,000 "company" car. Janice took out two credit cards in her husband's name and maxed them out to cover the down payment, he assumed.
Upon learning this, a light bulb went off in Linda's head. Suddenly, Janice's odd behavior when first assigning Linda the project made sense. The company in question has always been recognized for its logo: a small rowboat. Janice's cries of "No boats!" echoed through Linda's head. No wonder she was so adamant to request that Linda not include boats in her designs. She took the appropriate steps to stay out of her fantasy company's radar. She knew that if they saw a magnet with her name and a boat printed onto it stuck on the back of her "company vehicle," they could have caught on to her charade and ruined everything. Signs of a criminal mastermind.
So, in summary, Janice had commissioned promotional materials to be done by her niece without willing to pay, was posing as an agent for a multi-million-dollar real estate company, and had committed identity theft against her own husband by using the company she was pretending to work for as a cover. That was three strikes. She was out.
William told his brother that he had been feeling this coming on for longer than he wanted to admit. It was as if he was just waiting for that final straw to be forcibly plucked from the last bale of lies. William actually had a more fitting way of describing it: this was the last log in a bundle of suffering. He was ready to move on. Soon after his phone call with his brother, he got in touch with divorce attorneys, in hopes that he would not be taken under if the real estate company were to take legal action against Janice. He also sought guidance on how to tackle the identity theft issue.
Janice's life was beginning to unravel. Her secrets had been untimely ripped right out from under her. She was losing the job that she never actually had. She would have to lose the car that she stole money to buy. Her husband was leaving her. All of these things could have been avoided had Janice just bucked up and paid Linda. The artist prided herself on having never been one to gloat. She would take pity on other's misfortunes. But, this time, she felt no pity for her aunt... by marriage.
In taking action against her abusive, manipulative Aunt Janice, she managed to achieve justice, but not at all in the sense that she expected. Exposing her aunt for the imposturous, sociopathic fraud that she was, ruining her career and her marriage in the process, was a well-earned slice of revenge, glorious beyond her imagination. Yet, it came with a price - not one she had to pay, but one she felt responsible for.
William and his divorce attorney had worked out an emergency separation motion with the court as soon as they could. Thus, Janice could not cause him any further financial damage. Additionally, the lawyer was able to force Janice to turn over all of her financial records and declare all assets related to her "business." William specifically requested him to include the pieces Linda had shipped to Janice among those assets. While she would never see the money her aunt (by marriage) had promised her, Linda would at least have her artwork rightfully returned to her, thanks to her uncle (by blood).
But what would her uncle be getting? William would be getting a new home, now that he had to flee the one he shared with his wife. He was, at least, fortunate to have his brother and sister-in-law take him in until further notice. He would also be spending the next indefinite amount of time working to end his marriage of five years, but, at least he would not have to pay for her every need (or want) anymore, whether he was aware of it or not. Above all, he now had the "privilege" to say he understood the life of a broken man. Yet, he still appreciated the fact that Linda brought all of this light. Who knows how much worse things could have been for him if Janice had not been caught sooner?
Linda, somewhat, did get what she deserved by seeing that Janice (whom she would no longer need to refer to as her aunt... by marriage for much longer) got what she deserved. But, it broke her heart to see her satisfaction also mean her uncle's pain. Even the best dish of revenge can leave a bittersweet taste in the mouth of the server.