Shadowside was written in 2010 for my first NaNoWriMo and it's always been my intention to tighten it up for eventual publication. It features some of my favorite things in real life--heavy metal, gorgeous Asian men and big, scary mansions. Think of this as 'The Song Remains the Same' meets 'Dark Shadows'. Okay, maybe without all the decadence of the first...
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
I let the phone ring until it stopped. I knew it wasn’t Kat checking on her costume because she was running around trying to get last minute stuff situated for ComicCon, and the admin folks were driving her crazy.
The costume, a Victorian walking dress done in vibrant African mudcloth was almost finished, and I was working on the corset. Kat teased that she wanted to be able to sit and breathe for hours and not feel like she was in a straitjacket, so I was using the more flexible dancer’s boning, instead of what I usually preferred for myself.
The phone rang again and this time I poked myself with a straight pin. “Dammit!” I switched on my headset and without preamble, “You have reached AlterEva designs and I am not available until after July 21st. Thank you.”
Just as I was about to hang up, a silky rumble cascaded over my aural nerves. “Well, I will need your services before then, Miss Vincent.”
“Well, you’ll just have to wait. I’m in the middle of a commission,”
“I can make it worth your while.”
He had sexy voice, and while I was a sucker for sexy voices, I didn’t like his high-handed attitude. In my business I was used to people behaving as if I was their personal stylist.
“No, you can’t,” and I quickly hung up on him. Then I switched off my phone, sending any messages to voice mail. There, let him stew over that.
I went back to Kat’s steampunk outfit. The brightly colored train gathered to the floor, and the skirt automatically filled out, without the need of an extra petticoat, which I knew could be terribly hot. I was especially pleased with the pocket watch tassels hanging from the waist. The fitted jacket would do much for Kat’s boyish figure.
I grabbed the remote to my CD player, needing some inspirational music. Because I lived in a loft, volume was of little concern to my neighbors and I cranked up some D’espairs Ray and happily continued stitching.
For the first twenty or so years of my life, fashion was a thing I wore to express who I was inside. It was never anything that I ever thought of creating; though there were a lot of times while shopping that I wanted to grab designers around their collective size 0 only throats and choke the crap out of them. Admittedly, my style was quirky (my mother’s polite way of saying WTF are you wearing this time and my father’s way of saying not while you’re under my roof young lady!) and because of that quirkiness, I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. Then again, when the hell are smart and quirky kids ever part of the cool crowd?
I’d describe my look as the mutant offspring of The Sex Pistols and Shakespeare with some Oscar Wildean elements thrown in just for fun. Most of my teachers never knew what to make of my tattered mini-crinolines worn with a man’s vest and white shirt with knee-high socks and combat boots. My parents bought me a pair of ten-eyelet Doc Martens when I was fifteen and I was a very happy girl.
That’s also when I met Kat Blaine, a transfer student who was proudly black and punk and wore a platinum afro in a serious Mohawk like Jean Beauvoir of The Plasmatics. She took one look at my Queen Elizabeth I meets Siouxsie Sioux and that’s all it took and we’ve been best friends (more like sisters) ever since.
I did the college thing of course, majoring in something completely unrelated to business or real estate even though I knew my parents were hoping I’d eventually come around. For three years afterwards, I drifted aimlessly through a series of long-term temp assignments until I ended up at one firm as an executive secretary. The pay was great and since it was a small firm with a fairly wealthy clientele, the perks were quite nice. I wasn’t bored, but there was that feeling deep inside of me that I would not be spending the rest of my life as a glorified, if highly paid, secretary.
One cold Saturday night hanging out at Labyrinth, the premier goth club in Hollywood, destiny slapped me in the face.
While I’d become a wage slave in corporate America, Kat had parlayed her geeky love of comics into creating her own underground series, Myth Mistress—a rather interesting hybrid of ancient Egyptian lore and Yoruba cosmology.
That night at the club as we sat outside on the patio surrounded by candelabrum and heat lamps, she showed me a magazine called the Gothic and Lolita Bible.
“Take a look at this,” Kat said as she removed a glossy magazine from her vintage satchel. I started flipping through the pages of what was obviously a Japanese fashion magazine.
“Wow, these are amazing,” I breathed, each page seemingly more incredible than the last. “Geez, this stuff makes us Goths look like hillbillies.”
As I turned each page, my excitement grew and I was absolutely floored. Right there in full color was my style, worn by pretty and petite Japanese girls, complete with frills, flounces, lace and ruffs. Some of the looks resembled Strawberry Shortcake on acid, but one in particular was far more suitable (in my opinion) to the more sophisticated and elegant grown-up that I was now.
“Check this one out,” and Kat turned another page and my heart seemed to pause for just a moment.
The picture was of a beautiful young woman in black; a dress comprised of a tiered and frilled skirt with tight sleeves that fanned out into a bell at the wrists, similar in design to those worn by the aristocracy of the 17th century. The young woman’s hair was done in elaborate spiral curls and looked very Victorian. She looked both innocent and mysterious at the same time.
“She’s so beautiful.”
I saw Kat’s mischievously crooked smile and my eyes widened. I stared at the picture again for several minutes. “Okay, you are not going to tell me this is a guy now, are you?”
When Kat nodded, I still couldn’t register it. This guy, if it was a man, put every drag queen in the world to shame.
“His name’s Mana and he’s with this band called Malice Mizer. They’re really big in Japan and he dresses like that all the time. In fact, the whole band does.”
I held tightly onto the magazine, unwilling to relinquish it. I looked again.
Something had happened right then and there, something that after spinning my wheels with my liberal arts education and the nine-to-five position, suddenly everything became clear. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do, what I needed to do. Call me insane, but it was as if this Mana guy had manifested himself into my consciousness and was telling me what I really needed to be doing with my life. Suddenly, my gothic attire seemed so fake, so pedestrian. It looked like everyone else’s.
“Kat. I’m going to become a fashion designer!”
She didn’t even bat an eyelash, just grinned from ear to ear. “Are you going to do stuff like this?”
My own huge grin was infectious. “Better.”
Needless to say that becoming a clothing designer was a lot easier said than done. The announcement, over lobster bisque at the parents’ house hadn’t gone over well at first.
They didn’t refuse me outright, because I’d always been the sensible sort (in spite of my wardrobe and musical choices my parents would say), but I knew they were disappointed. We had ‘the talk’, which to my recollection went something like this:
ME: I’m going to design clothes.
MOTHER: Come again?
ME: I want to design costumes.
FATHER: Sweetie, have you thought about this first? I mean how secure is this financially?
ME: Well, honestly I don’t expect to become like Versace or anything, but I crunched the numbers and if I attract a decent clientele through the internet and through my gothic contacts, I could make a decent living.
FATHER: Hmm…let me see those numbers again…
Yes, the way to my parents’ hearts is through numbers. I obviously needed designs first and Kat had graciously volunteered (demanded actually) that I create something for her to wear the upcoming Fetish Ball in Las Vegas, which I did and which had my phone ringing at all hours for days afterward. Within a year, AlterEva Designs was doing a steady, sometimes brisk, business depending upon the season. Goths loved me for weddings, since I knew how to make a white dress look positively ghastly (in a dramatic way of course). Then the Ren-Faire crowd, some of whom were also Goths, became customers, as well as some of the cosplay and re-enactor groups. I even designed costumes for a local high school’s production of Peter Pan.
There was something so relaxing and yet rewarding about the process of taking a flat, one-dimensional piece of fabric and turning it into something magical. Moreover, it was a joy to create works of art that anyone of any size could wear and feel special in. I loved working with silks, satins, brocades and velvets. I loved the way they felt beneath my fingers, they way they draped across the dressmakers’ mannequin. Taffeta was fun and fluffy and would give a short skirt a bit of whimsy. Leather was sexy, seductive and yet accessible too.
I spent hours at the Riordan library, soaking up every tome about historical fashion, spent as much money on huge coffee table books on the subject until my bookcases nearly buckled from the sheer size and weight. And on the days I wasn’t stitching something fabulous, I was sketching ideas for brochures while working on my website.
During that time, I dated off and on, usually men I knew from the scene, but these relationships as far as I was concerned were never meant to last and I wasn’t in the least heartbroken when they ended. I never lied to anyone or swore everlasting love; I couldn’t. Kat despaired of me and though her intentions were good, I had to put my foot down about her setting me up on blind dates.
I stood up and stretched as Kat strolled in with dinner. For the past week, she’d been bringing me dinner and we’d sit and talk while I worked. My stomach rumbled. When I was in the middle of a project, I sometimes forgot about food.
“Oh wow, Eva. It looks way awesome!” Her eyes grew wide as she saw her costume taking shape on the dressmakers’ dummy. I’m going to want to wear this way after ComicCon.”
So we ate and chat. Between pieces of tuna negiri and unagi and sips of hot miso soup, Kat told me about the frenetic last-minute details that came from setting up and manning one’s booth at the world’s biggest geek-fest.
“I miss the days when it wasn’t all Hollywood,” she said wistfully. “Half of all the celebrities who are there probably don’t even like comics. It’s just gotten too big.”
“I take it that Dragon’s not going.”
Kat looked at me sideways. “Actually, he wants to go. I’m happy of course, but I’m scared that he’s going to have one of his big panic attacks, but he’s determined to face his fear head on.”
If there was ever a couple who would win any The Least Likely To Be a Couple contest, it was Kat and Dragon hands down. Sometimes it boggled my mind that the two of them had been together for ten years! In their case opposites didn’t just attract, they were hog-tied and crazy-glued together. Outside of the fact they were both huge comic book geeks and seemed to have an affinity for obscure cultures and languages, their personalities were polar opposites. Kat was gregarious, chatty sometimes to the point of wanting to stick a muzzle on her, and so full of boundless energy that a large city could use her to keep their streetlights going for a least a year. Dragon was quiet almost to the point of taciturnity and would only talk to people he knew very well (meaning Kat and me). Of course it didn’t help matters that Dragon (real name Dragon Erick Van Wyk) suffered from social anxiety disorder. Large crowds tended to freak him out; one reason why he seldom attended conventions of any sort. The last time we went to Anime Expo, the paramedics were called. Still, Dragon was completely and utterly smitten with Kat and was her biggest fan. She in turn, was crazy about him to the point of mulishness. The two of them drove me nuts when we hung out together, making those silly kissy faces and cooing their obnoxious pet nicknames. I swore if I heard one more “Dragy-waggy-donut” (don’t ask) or “Kitty-fur ball” (Kat wore her natural hair in a single puff), I’d kill them both.
“That’s awesome, sweetie. At least he’s trying.”
“True. Besides, I can’t wait for him to see my costume. I just wish you could be there.”
I touched Kat’s hand. “Me too, but I’ve got a bunch of paperwork to catch up on. At least this weekend, I can rest.”
While we continued eating, I turned the phone back on and replayed all my messages. Not surprisingly was the man I’d spoken with and hung up on earlier, but as I was about to take a bite of the eel, Kat and I both gasped.
“I am certain you are familiar with Dominion’s End. I am the lead guitarist and leader of the band, Kei Matsuya. I am not used to being ignored and I will continue to call you until you hear out my proposition. I will call again tomorrow at ten in the morning. I suggest that you make time in your busy schedule to hear me out.”
“Eva, oh my god! That was Kei Matsuya! He obviously wants you to design something for him!”
I pretended to be indifferent, but inside my heart was going a mile a minute. I was a huge fan of the prog-rock group Dominion’s End, and its androgynous lead guitarist. Kat and I had seen them once at the Nokia Theatre and they were even better live. The entire band was the living embodiment of what fantasies are made of, but they were also brilliant musicians. The fact that Matsuya called me, of all the costume designers in the world was amazing in and of itself. It had to mean that my talents were finally being recognized, that all my hard work was coming to fruition.
Still, I wasn’t crazy about his demanding I make time for him. As it was I had a hard time dealing with people like that, and I often chose not to. Of course that meant not as many commissions, but at least I had my sanity, and that meant a lot more to me.
But Kat was positively star-struck. She grabbed me by the hand and shook me, making me drop my shrimp roll in the process.
“You’ve just got to do it, Eva! You’ve just got to!”
“No, I don’t have to do anything,” I shot back. “You know I hate when people act like him. If he wants one of my designs, he’ll bloody well have to wait!”
Kat wasn’t hearing a word I said. “Look, you’re almost finished right? I’ll stay overnight and help you, but this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Matsuya doesn’t pick just anyone.”
“Then why doesn’t he just go with whomever he was working with before? I mean, I would love to design for him, but he’s got to be willing to work on my schedule. I’m certainly not going to jump at his command.”
Still, Kat couldn’t stop chattering. It was as if she’d forgotten about her first booth, her first public appearance of the woman whose graphic novel was becoming a huge hit, and that she had been guest-speaker at last year’s WisCon.
“Eva, the outfit looks just fine right now. Everyone’s going to love it and I’ll definitely pass out your business cards, but you’ve just got to do this!”
She wasn’t going to let me eat until I at least agreed to hear what that infernal rock star had to say. “Fine. I’ll hear him out. But that won’t guarantee I’m going to do what he wants.”
I finally managed to send Kat home, with a promise that she’d be back with breakfast—bless her—at ten o’clock sharp. She also promised to help me with the finishing touches on her costume so that I could work on whatever it was Kei Matsuya wanted me for.
I stayed awake for a few hours more, adding the finishing stitches to the matching corset, then after the third yawn, decided to go to bed.
The next morning broke cool and dreary and perfect. I loved rain and L.A. hadn’t gotten enough of it during the fall and winter months, but Mother Nature seemed determined to make up for the lack with a nice torrential downpour. That meant nothing because within a day or two it would be back up to 80 degrees again.
The only problem with living in a loft is the heating. My home is a cavernous monstrosity, but I love it. I had space heaters in my workroom, the living room and of course my rather decadent bathroom. It was early, just after eight. I decided to take a long hot shower, check my e-mail and see how much more of Kat’s costume I could work on before ten.
Dominion’s End—Kei Matsuya, Miki Hirata, Tommy Koizumi, Chris Akino and Devynn Yan—had been a part of the 1980’s metal scene, though they hadn’t risen to the stupendous heights nor crashed spectacularly like a lot of the bands from that era. While good-looking enough for MTV, they were also “too Asian”, though all of them were SoCal guys born and bred, so few of their videos got played. In spite of the lack of media exposure, they’d amassed quite a following due to massive touring where according the band, they’d play anywhere for anyone who was willing to listen. It probably also didn’t help that few of their songs were shorter than six minutes. They were prog and proud in an era of sex and decadence.
Kei Matsuya was the band’s unofficial leader and true to his artistic nature, lived in a gilded age mansion called Shadowside and had turned the garage into a own recording studio. Everyone speculated on his sexuality, since he was often seen kissing Miki Hirata, the lead singer, though he was also supposedly involved with every model and starlet in Tinsel Town. He was 47 years-old, yet looked like he was in his twenties.
I also knew, just from his message, that he was obviously a man used to getting his way. Well, unless he was a lot nicer today, Kei Matsuya would find himself looking for someone else.
I stepped out of the shower, dried off with the same fluffy towel that had seen five years of college, several trips to Vancouver and one on-the-cheap trek across Europe. At one time I think it was blue, but now it had polka dots. Of course I had much nicer towels, but like comfort food, this was my comfort towel.
It didn’t take me long to slather on my favorite coconut-vanilla body cream over a tall and curvy frame and run a quick bristle brush through my almost non-existent red hair. I had cut it short during a trip to Europe and haven’t allowed it to grow any longer than two inches since. My fellow black women can happily and cheerfully stick hair from India and have silky flowing locks, but there’s absolutely nothing more chic (at least to me) than short and sexy. While in Europe, I had no fewer than ten marriage proposals from six different countries. Even here, the only reason I’m single certainly isn’t lack of opportunity.
I padded naked into my sleeping area, which was sectioned off by antique Japanese shoji screens that my great-grandmother had given me. They had a rather bittersweet history, having belonged to her neighbors who had been rounded up and sent to Manzanar in the 1940’s. Grandma said the family wanted her to have them rather than being sold off to strangers. Thirty years later, grandma found the family and tried to return them, but the family wouldn’t accept them back. I cherish them as works of art, and as a reminder of the stupidity of supposedly sane people.
I grabbed my favorite pair of how-many-times washed jeans and a t-shirt that read I Am Seme...Bow The F*ck Down. It was a pain to shop for jeans that were both long and which fit my rather ample rear end, and I didn’t do low-rise anything. When I found these, I instantly bought eight pairs from the store, then went online and purchased two more. And just when I was about to buy another four pairs, the stupid company decided to change the style.
Standing in front of a full-length mirror, I blew a kiss at my reflection. If I was a crayon, then I’d be the deep sienna, which makes the flame red of my hair stand out big time. My eyes are sleepily almond with lashes far too long and straight and which could get in my way when I’m working. I have sculpted cheekbones with a deep dimple on my left cheek. My lips seem to take up a great deal of the bottom half of my face, which of course gives me an excuse to wear the brightest color lipsticks that I can. Yes, I’ve got a broad nose, but I like the fact that it balances out my face. Besides, if Barbra Streisand is happy with her supposedly Jewish nose, then I can and am, perfectly happy with my supposedly African one. I’m not vain, but I do have a rather healthy sense of self-esteem. I think part of it has to do with having found my bliss—designing costumes—and being able to achieve modest success in it. I’m not like fabulously wealthy, but I am able to live comfortably and thanks to my previous position and my real estate parents, invested my money for the long-term.
Slipping my feet into my beat-up yet comfortable Uggs, I went into the kitchen and put on the espresso machine. It was one of my few major luxuries, since I’m an inveterate coffee drinker. I also knew that Kat wouldn’t be civil until she had some caffeine in her system.
It was still gray and wet outside, so I turned on a few of the space heaters and while the coffee was brewing, I turned on some music as I made my way to my workspace where Kat’s dress waited for me.
I was so happy about how it turned out, with the box pleats which looked like a Victorian bustle. It was subverting the whole Steampunk paradigm with the use of the brightly colored mudcloth and its touches of Zulu design. Kat was going to look amazing.
“Hey ya!” Kat’s unusually chipper at this time of the morning voice broke through my thoughts. The smell of freshly-baked croissants and sausage tickled my olfactory senses. I was starving.
The woman was practically dancing as we made our way into the kitchen. “So, are you going to say yes to him?”
I reached into the bag and took out a croissant sandwich. “I haven’t decided anything yet. I don’t even know what he really wants.”
Kat grabbed her favorite mug from the counter and rinsed it out. “What he wants is an AlterEva design. You’re famous.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe. But he’d damn well better be a lot nicer to me today than he was yesterday. Asking me politely would go a long way.”
“He’s a rock star,” Kat said, pouring some coffee and adding thick cream to it. “They’re all used to getting their way.”
“I’m sure,” I muttered, taking a healthy bite of the croissant. “But that doesn’t mean I’m inclined to give it to them.”