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"Hello, my name is Brienne," she said, trying to suppress the need to faint. "And I am romantically challenged."
"Hello Brienne!" replied the rest of the support group, most of them giving her supportive smiles. From the tales she had already listened to in this session, Brienne knew she wasn't the only one with romantic problems; Sam was terrified of women, Gilly had a weird relationship with her father, Podrick stammered, Penny was scared her dwarfism would prevent her from finding love, Jeyne had an evil psycho from hell for an ex, Hot Pie loved biscuits more than other humans, Edd seemed to have a sense of humour bypass, and Tormund... well... Tormund just seemed a bit too self-confident. Consequently, this group of misfits had all come to the support group looking for answers from the luminescent Daenerys, who presided over them all like an all knowing love goddess.
"So, Brienne..." Daenerys said, when Brienne herself couldn't find the words. "Why are you here with us today? What do you need to get off your chest?"
Brienne blushed and bit her lip, two sure signs that she was feeling nervous and a little overwhelmed. However, she momentarily let herself be possessed by Maria von Trapp as she struggled to find the words.
I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain...
"I am here, because, like you all, I have found it very difficult to find love."
Daenerys smiled at her kindly. "And why do you think that is?"
Without wasting a second, Brienne pointed at her face. "I'm ugly."
While the rest of the group nodded understandingly, Daenerys fixed her with a disapproving look. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..."
Brienne tried not to roll her eyes in the face of this regulation hottie, but it was difficult. "That's why, I suppose, when I get a bit of self-confidence, I'll suddenly become a Victoria Secrets Angel? No, I am ugly, and it has shaped my life considerably."
"How so?" asked Sam, and for a moment Brienne recognised a kindred spirit.
There were too many examples to list as to how her ugliness had exposed other people's innate desire to be cruel. "I was bullied at school. I had an entire group of boys bet on who could take my virginity. My prom date asked me out as a joke, and then threw a flower at my feet in the middle of the dance." Brienne took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. "It means I don't like attention; I distrust it when people look at me for too long."
"In a romantic or non-romantic context?" asked Daenerys.
"Both," admitted Brienne, "but the former is worse. To me, it seems that people are always cruel and ask questions later, so that's why I find it so hard to talk to people, I guess."
Daenerys smiled at her. "But you are here, aren't you? You are talking to us now."
Brienne gave her a pained look, not wanting to appear condescending. "Yes, but... this is terrifying. I never talk to people, not outside my dad and his never ending train of girlfriends, I suppose. With anyone else, I think they are going to be like Bryen Caron, Humfrey Wagstaff, Hyle Hunt or, god forbid, Ron Connington. They all lied to me and snickered behind my back, and that's why I find it so hard to talk to people, to talk to men. I don't trust that anyone likes me - I am ugly, as I keep being reminded - and I find it very hard to think that any man is being honest and serious with me when, in the past, all of them have laughed, jeered, and mocked me. Part of me hopes it is just me being irrational, but the evidence I have had throughout my life appears to suggest otherwise."
"But what about male friends?" Penny asked. "Or colleagues? Surely there has been one man in your life that has been trustworthy?"
Brienne tried not to laugh. "My dad, I suppose, but even he has spent the years entertaining his multitude of disposable girlfriends rather than with me. And male friends? The thought would terrify me!"
"What about work?" Gilly asked. "Have you met anyone there?"
Brienne sighed. She did not really want to be bringing up her unemployment, but she felt she did not have any other choice. "I'm between jobs at the moment."
"Oh?" asked Daenerys. "What did you previously do?"
"I am a chocolatier," she admitted. "I used to work for Renly Baratheon at Fury Chocolates before... before..."
Before he died in a car accident, she thought. And my heart was broken into fifty million pieces.
Brienne had expected that after that confession, the support group would be able to move onto another topic, but Hot Pie just looked at her incredulously. "Fury Chocolates were among the best in the world!" he exclaimed, "and all because of Mr Baratheon's mysterious hermit chocolate maker who lived in the mountains. Did you know Renly's secret? Because, since he died, the whole chocolate world has desperately been trying to identify his chocolate maker. He was a revolutionary."
"Yeah, I do know," Brienne declared, even as her cheeks went red. "Renly's chocolatier was me."
A silence rang around the room, so loud it hurt Brienne's ears. Eventually, it was broken by Hot Pie gawping at her. "You? Are you trying to tell us that you invented the stag chocolate, the best-selling luxury confectionary item of the last fifteen years?"
Brienne nodded and tried to downplay how proud she felt of her achievement. "It wasn't that hard. It's all about the delicacy of the piping..."
"How did you keep this a secret?" asked Tormund disbelievingly. "I know shit all about fancy chocolates, and even I have heard all about the stag! How is your name not on every billboard in the country?"
"Because of Renly," said Brienne sincerely, emotion pulling at her voice. "He met me at the Paris Chocolate Convention when I was fresh out of Chocolate School..."
"There's such a thing as Chocolate School?" inquired Sam, suddenly intensely interested.
"Yes," nodded Brienne, "but only in France and Belgium. I went to Paris for my training, but once I was there, I found I wasn't cut out for the competition. It was all about self-promoting, self-advertising, and schmoozing rather than actual talent, everything I was terrible at! Eventually, in my desperation to get a job, I exhibited some of my chocolates at the Paris Chocolate Convention and... that was where Renly found me."
Beautiful, lovely, friendly, trusting... and very gay Renly... found me.
"And he offered you a job?" asked Gilly.
Brienne nodded again. "He told me he was setting up a shop in London, mainly as competition to the Lannister Chocolate Empire, and he needed someone with an eye for the trends in chocolate making just like me. I agreed to help him develop his line on one condition."
"Which was?" questioned Daenerys.
"That no one would ever know I was his chocolatier," she admitted. "I couldn't deal with the attention..."
"But it would have been positive attention," said Daenerys gently. "Surely that would have been a good thing?"
Brienne suddenly felt a little breathless. "God no! How would I ever truly know it was positive? Like Connington and Hunt, everyone who tried my chocolates could have been secretly laughing at me or, even worse, could come and say how much they hated my chocolates to my face. No, it was much better I was anonymous. It was Renly that came up with the plan; he spread the rumour that I was a mysterious hermit monk who lived in the mountains and made chocolates in their spare time. In reality, I made the chocolates at home and delivered them to his shop; he just told everyone I was the delivery girl."
Hot Pie looked half-elated and half-flabbergasted. "And you kept this up for ten years?"
"Yes," said Brienne, giving him a sad smile. "Until Renly was killed in a hit and run accident six months ago. As no one knew I was his secret chocolatier, I just waited in the shadows at his funeral, crying for the only man who had ever been kind to me."
And the only man I have ever, and will ever, love.
Although a heavy sympathetic silence followed Brienne's confession, Daenerys eventually broke it. "And now you are looking for a new job?"
Brienne tried not to let the terror show in her face. "Yes. That's mostly why I've come here. I don't have enough money for a therapist, so I needed somewhere to talk about my total inability to talk to people. I sent around my CV, you see, to all the chocolatiers in London, hoping someone would take me on and... I got a response. I have an interview tomorrow."
There was an excited clap from the support group then, but Brienne greatly struggled to share their enthusiasm. "Where is it?" asked Hot Pie. "Lannister Chocolates?"
Brienne looked at him dismissively. "No, I would never work for those cutthroats. It's at a small company called Red & Gold Chocolates."
Hot Pie let out a little snort. "Oh dear. I didn't even know they were still open! They're still relying on old Lannister recipes from ten years ago, aren't they?"
Brienne wanted to object, but in truth she knew Hot Pie was right. "Maybe I can help shake up their range?"
"If anyone can do it," grinned Hot Pie. "It is Renly's mysterious hermit."
At that statement, Brienne sighed. "But I actually have to get through the job interview tomorrow... which I am beyond shit at."
Daenerys gave her a kind smile. "Don't worry. Just go with a mantra in your head that reassures you that you are capable of anything. Also, make sure you do things to relax both before and after. It will be hard, I am sure but, as the alternative is continued unemployment, you have to find the strength from somewhere."
I do, Brienne thought. Renly would want me to move on and keep making chocolate...
As the room then moved on to Edd's problems, Brienne once more went back to trying to channel Maria von Trapp.
I have confidence in confidence alone... and as you can see, I have confidence in me!