Standing beneath the doorway about to take my first steps into the convention, my nose fills with the salivating scents -- caramelized sugar and tangy citrus, top notes of orange, lemon — quite the mouth-watering welcome to the 'Edible jewelry,' hobby convention.
Arrayed, as far as my sight allows, lie festooned tables in cotton-candy table-cloths, while in and around lanyard-necklaced folks twist, turn, traverse this tasty trail. I accept with an appreciative smile, a generous goblet of Unoaked Chardonnay, my choice for its effects that will support me throughout the upcoming evening.
Midway across the humungous room, I spy my spot, "Dipped Indulgences," where my gold-leaf chocolate jewelry tempts and teases patrons to try on a treasure — a necklace, earrings, a bracelet; the 24-carat gold complementing the dark chocolate baubles.
I am a bit of a celebrity at the conference, parlaying my hobby into a profitable business. In truth, chocolate never touches my lips, given my secret nickel allergy to dark chocolate. I surreptitiously check the perfection of my crimson lips before swallowing a deep sip, leaving a lip-print on its rim.
I nod to Patricia, the gregarious manager of my boutique, sitting in our corner, dressed immaculately in the signature colours of ginger, gold and garnet. In my absence, as a circulating judge, she will orchestrate our presence, our burgeoning balance-sheet, ideally selling out long before this night's event ends — scarcity seals sales.
As I teeter on my spiky heels, I run my palm over my decolletage, fingertips confirming my epi-pen on its sturdy, shrouded lanyard. Over the years, I have perfected my ruse of taking a tiny tip of treats. Upon the stage, my fellow judging panel lounge around in a semi-circle, their chit-chatting cheerful to my ears. My sore souls sink with gratitude onto an upholstered chair that I pull up to the clear acrylic table.
My eyes glance at the iPad by my left hand, this year's high-tech judging tool. I type in my vendor name and password before being prompted to use the log-in for this night's contest. The lights dim, a gentle gong cues onlooker attention. To the right, a spotlight gleams, highlighting a woman wearing a long gown with strategic lace inserts. Her talon-like nails tap the microphone, sending screeching and squeaking across space.
Behind my mask of supposed interest, I think about how her voice will sound: deep breathy; husky hoarse; light bubbly. In my brain, I am jotting down a to-do list for at home, at the office, one synapse listening for my name, when I need to rise, smile and wave like the queen.
The iPad jumps to life, a transcript of her words rolling on the screen. Below lie the hyperlinks to the contestant websites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts. Each entrant has won local competitions by their respective category, now compete to win the best overall edible jewelry crown.
My fingers scroll down the selections for judgment. Each piece is a creative confluence of intricacy, combining chocolate, licorice, dried fruits, gold leaf in a unique confection. Two confectioners pique my interest. I text Patricia with their contact details.
I stifle a yawn, discouraged that the spokesperson still blathers on, fidgeting on my seat, searching for a more comfortable pose. I jump, surprised by a hand at the back of my neck, and an effusive kiss on my cheek.
"Geoff, my dear, you scared me ten years older. Shame on you!"
When I turn, back I note that my replenished glass. I sneak a small sip, wondering at the trace of tannins on the base of my tongue.
Photos of the sweets to be analyzed shimmer on the screen. A curvaceous pendant combining black licorice dried lemon with a glimmering of gold leaf; one ring fit for royalty replete with a gigantic sugar diamond accented by macaroon gems; chandelier earrings with teeny chocolate beads, the requisite gold leaf and dried berries; and, finally, a cuff fit for strapping wrist combining dried kiwi, lemons, limes, interspersed by Merano-like chocolate corned glass balls. The curtains close, leaving us judges to our decision making, first individually then collectively, with the ultimate goal of consensus about one particular piece.
My throat itches. I sip from my goblet. I sample the non-chocolate parts of the jewels, hyper-aware of my allergies. The lights pierce my eyes. My stomach burbles and gurgles. I raise an arm, waving, needing a drink of cooling water.
My hands tap over my chest, not finding my epi-pen on its lanyard. The pounding in my head paints bright colours across my lids. At once, I shiver and sweat.
Although I open my lips, I hear but a strangled gasp, inarticulate, panicked.
A persistent, soft beeping leads me back to consciousness. I lie on a bed, intravenous in the back of my right hand. When I swallow, my throat feels as if shards of glass pass down my gullet. My ribs ache, keeping my breathing short and shallow.
In the doorway, two men stand, conversing too softly for me to eavesdrop. One dressed in a white lab coat I guess is a doctor. The other man, dressed in casual sportswear, my mind remains confused.
My lids open again in this dimly lit room. A nurse places a morsel of ice between my parched lips. My eyes fill with thankfulness.
"You're on the mend, Maeve. Somehow, someone introduced a series of allergens into your system resulting in an anaphylactic attack."
"My epi-pen…" my voice croaks like a frog.
"The police know more about this. They'd like to talk with you soon."
The monitor echoes with my increasing heart rate.
"Who knows," she pats my arm, "all I know is it was done to you on purpose. You are safe here. Just so you realize, a police officer is on guard outside this door. Focus on resting, getting back your strength."
Oh my God, someone tried to kill me! But why? Whom? Tears roll down my cheeks, soaking the pillowcase. The bed feels like a lonely island, where I am shipwrecked, hurt and alone.