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Sing A Song Of Sixpence; How to rile up an Irishman, second year at Cochise
Topic Started: Apr 21 2016, 11:06 AM (504 Views)
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Don't cast aspersions on my asparagus.
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Aiden's solace, however, was to be swiftly curtailed.

Not by an axe-wielding horror icon. Not by a crashing plane. No. By something far more insidious. Far more unwelcome. Far more liable to ruin one's appetite. Far from a welcome end to isolation, the arrival of Bradley Floyd was enough to drive even the most extroverted and sociable of people into a nostalgia for solitude.

Dumping his tray, packed to the brim with as much unhealthy crap as he could smuggle past the lunchlady's noises, onto the table, he sat down opposite Beaks. The near-ubiquitous human gesture, of asking 'is this seat taken?', did not even occur to Bradley. Dumping his own ass onto the seat, with as much grace and carefulness as he had given his tray, Bradley immediately tucked in, waiting until an egg was already half-stuffed between his lips before speaking.

"Hey," he said, syllables broken up by vexing chews and obnoxious gulps, "heya Jewnose." Yep. As if 'Beaks' wasn't an insulting enough nickname, Bradley decided to add in the 'edge' of casual anti-Semitic stereotyping. There was no vitriol or hostility in his tone. The idea someone would, quite justifiably, be offended by his comments didn't even occur to him. And he immediately swerved into seemingly sincere pleasantries. "How's the day been treatin' ya?"

Bradley Floyd was far less traumatic than a jet crashing.

But he was far more annoying.
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"I mean, it's gonna end up in my belly anyway," he responded, pausing for a few seconds between words to ravenously stuff another egg between his lips. He bit down prematurely, and half of the egg tumbled down into his lap. He furrowed his brow, swallowed the other half, and reached down and plopped it in his mouth. All this without more than a second thought.

Whether Bradley didn't know he was violating social norms, or whether he knew and didn't care, was an open question to the outside world. Bradley liked to keep it that way. Aura of mystery, y'know. Chicks dig that. Bradley was sure historians would debate this question for eons to come. Not like they'd have anything better to do.

"So don't really care how I treat it." As if to make his point, he viciously stabbed the peas. More of them ended up on the floor than on the prongs of the fork, but that is the price you pay for rhetorical power. It was true. Bradley saw little need for table manners or farm animal welfare. As long as stuff got from the farm to the belly, whoopdedoo.

"Yeah, school's pretty fucking boring, you're not voicing a controversial opinion there mate," Bradley continue, tearing each pea off the prongs of the fork in turn. "Who needs to know the President of Uzbekibekibekistanstan, you know?"

Once again, it was an open question if Bradley was agreeing, or mocking.
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"Eh, I'm sceptical," Bradley continued, his style of eating slowly transitioning into something - normal was the wrong word - more dignified. He still ate around any quasi-solid vegetables, any that went into his mouth collateral damage from his ravenous devouring of the meat, but at the very least was no longer proactively flicking them onto the table. He still left various juices and sauces dribbling down his chin, but at least now had the awareness to occasionally wipe them off with a swipe of his forearm. And while he still talked with his mouth full, at least he did not listen with his mouth full.

Bradley wasn't naturally a messy eater.

He just liked the strong reactions it provoked in some people. Beaks wasn't gonna attend to that craving.

"See, Bill Gates dropped out. Lincoln dropped out. Ted Turner got kicked out because he was caught fucking around," Bradley continued, with all the insight of a guy who read a Buzzfeed article once, though he would never dare admit that. "Thomas Edison dropped out. I don't think Nikola Tesla dropped out. And who made the most money?"
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Bradley also had no idea who Tesla was.

He just knew self-righteous uptight lefties liked banging on about how he was better than Edison. Was kinda pathetic, if you asked Bradley. Yeah, he got the desire to sympathise with the underdogs, but you know what they call the underdogs of history? Losers. They had their chance for the comeback. They threw it away.

But still. Aiden was setting the tone of who he was pretty quickly.

"Oh, so you think if you don't get a good education, your family won't be proud?"

He added a smile on the end.

In Bradley's world, that made everything a harmless joke.
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Most people would have respected that.

Well, Bradley respected it. He respected how Aiden did not lose his cool, how he confessed with a "mea culpa" his own folly in broaching that conversation, how he was blunt and direct in laying out the lines that should not be crossed. Bradley always gave people points for honesty, for directness, for abandoning hints and nuanced social cues and instead frankly articulating their desires for the conversation. He respected that.

But most people would have fortified that respect, and followed it with acquiescence.

Not Bradley though. To earn Bradley's respect (a goal that, to anyone other than Bradley, would seem more a mark of shame than an accomplishment), one had to also sustain a relentless barrage of button-pressing. Taboos would be broken, boundaries violated, the prohibited topics made real. Bradley respected people who stated their lines. Allowed him to more efficiently test them.

He impaled a piece of meat (mystery meat, as Bradley liked to think of the cafeteria food) on his fork, and held it up. "Okay. I'll respect your limits."

He took a bite from the fork. Tore the meat off. Pulled it back to look it over.

"Think this animal's family was proud of 'im?"
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Bradley feigned agreement, respect, clemency and magnanimity. His grin dropped, replaced by a sombre and dour frown, nodding along as if it accept the gravity of Aiden's request. Someone so quickly angered, who had so comprehensively abandoned the appearance of neighbourly geniality, must perhaps have a deep-seated, searing desire to move the conversation into clearer pastures. Slips of the tongue had sadly led into this confrontation, and it was all too clear that Aiden was pulling all the stops out to navigate out of it.

He had tried reasoned argument. If maintained, such tactics provoked respect from Bradley. Could even lead to a mutually beneficial friendship with him. However, at the first sign of adversity, Aiden had foolishly shifted gears, to inefficacious pleading and undignified threats, trying to emphasise the negative consequences of continued agitation. That only further encouraged Bradley. He would have fun from this. Aiden had marked himself out as an excellent recipient of gadfly shenanigans. Hopefully he had more buttons to push, but Bradley doubted that.

No matter. He only needed the one.

"Personally," he spoke, between offputting chews, eating his meat with a casual veneer now rather than active displays of vulgarity, "I think you're being a bit callous towards the hearing impaired with your remark, and would like you to stop, for you are triggering me." He maintained the serious force for the duration of the sentence, but the revival of his smirk at the end made it clear, to any doubting observers, that Bradley was not in the least offended.

"But sure! I shall oblige by your request! So, how are your relatives?"

Bradley loved synonyms. Signs of a good vocabulary, tools of rhetorical flourish, and excellent enablers for ignoring the spirit of an instruction.
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Ah.

The sweet gratification of a sore overreaction. Bradley revelled in it. It was not out of sadism, no. Bradley never wanted to inflict distress or actual harm. No. He saw himself as more of a crusader, against oversensitivity and whining demands for mollycoddling. A character-builder. A champion against the stifling prudishness of political correctness. It was almost idealistic at times, though Bradley was not so egotistical to fully buy into that self-righteous crap.

No. He gained enjoyment out of it. That wonderfully intoxicating cocktail of catharsis, self-satisfaction, and vainglorious thrill that always accompanied a successful provocation was almost addicting. Bradley heartily believed that. It was a rush, a wave of adrenaline coursing through his veins, an excitement at so thoroughly revealing the true thin-skinned nature of his fellow student.

And it was harmless, really. Aiden's beaky nose wasn't an inch out of shape. Nah. He was just flustered. Offended. And so what? He'd be fine. Maybe stronger out of this whole experience. And yes, Bradley gained a LOT of fun out of this, but it was all harmless, really. A bit boisterous, yeah, but Bradley was ultimately harmless.

If only Aiden appreciated that.

Eh, best he didn't. Otherwise, Bradley wouldn't be developing this brilliant memory.

It was almost endearing how he tried to enforce restraint, how Aiden tried not to rise to Bradley's expert gadfly tactics. He was shaking, and trying with admirably futile determination to try to stop it. Guy was like a volcano on the verge of erupting. It was bloody hilarious. If Aiden were forty years older, Bradley'd be a bit worried the guy was on a verge of a heart attack, so tumultuous was his shaking and so volatile his current state. Any observer would quickly deduce that, once again, Bradley had worked his magic, oh so wonderfully.

And of course, he had to speak.

His words were like music to Bradley's ears.

Yet Bradley remained stoic. Now was not the time for gloating. No. Now was the time for mastery. Patience was a virtue Bradley much admired, as was self-restraint. He resisted the urge to chime in with a cutting remark in every pause in Aiden's little tirade. He could have delivered some zingers, but the opportunities lost were prohibitive. No. He would be slow. Methodical. Utilise timing, the comedian's greatest weapon.

He waited until Aiden had finished, and from the way his lips curved ever so slightly, from the little hint of glee in his voice, it was apparent his current mood of calm respect was but a facade. A comedic device, if you will. Bradley did not give Aiden any explicit reason to be angry in the first sentence he spoke. But there was an awkwardness to it that betrayed it was but a setup, to a far crueller punchline.

"Yeah, we wouldn't want you doing anything you might regret."

He could not resist the smile.

"Your family wouldn't like that."
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Aiden, he had a certain way of words.

That wasn't a begrudging compliment. No. Bradley did feel, not diluted at all by his unadulterated glee at having found yet another target with such shamefully thin skin, that Aiden was a guy he could grow to like. Of course, he doubted such feelings would be reciprocated. Alas, that is the price he had to pay, for uncovering this goldmine of irritability and fragility in the first place, for removing the facade and unveiling Aiden's true weakness for the whole world to see.

A crabby and cantankerous edge to him that had just been unveiled, plus a certain flowery eloquence, a gift of gab, a rhetorical je ne sais quoi, combined to make him really fun to annoy. He had an easy wit in these moments of anger, a torrent of abuse flooding out of his mouths at a pace and with a seething intensity that Bradley could only respect. The strategy - attempting to put Bradley on the defensive - was palpable, and though it was doomed to fail and horrifically counterproductive, Bradley still respected ol' Beaky for having the tenacity to stick with it.

Of course, Bradley knew not to interrupt the tirade. It was hard to hold in his laughter, hard to resist the urge to twist Aiden's words to make it sound like Beaks was the one insulting his own flesh and blood, but oh so worth it.

It was comedy gold. Too good to be interrupted. And hell, Beaks was replenishing his arsenal, giving him ammunition for later. He really was a nice guy at heart. So considerate, even without intending to be.

He allowed a few seconds, for emotions to simmer down somewhat. For the outburst to sink in, make its impact known. Bradley nodded, and stepped out away from the table, as if to once again raise Aiden's hopes, that his wishes would be respected.

"Sure." He smiled. "I feel ya."

"I'll go polish my pole!" A thumbs up, just to make his sincerity unambiguous. "Any pictures of your sister, by the way?"
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Say what you will about Bradley, but the guy had an unflappable collected ease around him. He didn't balk from confrontation or back down from what he believed in and, less admirably, what he found funny. He moved back only an inch, the barest concession to reflexes, at Beaks's agitation. Aiden was, as always, giving him much in the way of plentiful ammunition. He could have had a field day with the word 'wanker' alone - such a cute and coy word, which also happened to be one that, hell, Bradley had just agreed with, and a narrative that Aiden's sister fit perfectly into.

But no, he was a precision comedian, and would seize upon one sentence in particular.

"I'm a motherfucker?"

He loved being called that word. Was always super-easy to twist, to turn back on his opponent's head, to use its literal meaning as fodder for some other joke. And it flowed perfectly from the conversation they had been having.

"I mean, a picture of your mother would suffice. Although, nah, a picture of your sister would be so much more useful."

In hindsight, Bradley had no idea how old Beaks's sister was. Shoulda asked about that first. Ah well.
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"Son of a bitch? I mean, your insults really do derive from the maternal-"

Bradley's snark was cut off, and he was not wholly expecting it. He was used to Aiden's type: blustering, blubbering oafs, easily offended, riled up but ultimately too pathetic to do anything more than huff and puff and throw almost endearingly efficacious little tantrums. They were too pathetic, pussies really, to ever make a serious effort at mounting any kind of defence of the values that they apparently held so dear, the lines they were so extravagantly insistent should never be crossed.

Hyperbole, lofty and pompous rhetorical flourishes. That was what he expected from the sort like Aiden. Any man - sorry, boy - so defensive of his family's honour wouldn't get into a fight: that'd upset mommy. At the most, they'd squeal, snitch, tell, whatever. Fucking Benedict Arnold all over again.

So he was surprised when Aiden actually had cajones.

"Woah!"

Thankfully, he responded without being too much of a bitch about it. They fell to the floor, Bradley instinctively pressing his palms against Aiden's shoulders and face, trying to get some breathing room.
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Bradley kept his left hand pressed against Aiden's face, but his right hand broke away, knowing that he had to actually protect himself. Teach the touchy asshole a lesson, throw some punches, at centre mass, deflect the few blows he saw coming. Aiden had some sharp claws. Bradley woulda made a quip - on the theme of beaks or girliness or something - but shit. He was tossing his head from side to side, not letting Aiden get a good hit in.

But most of his force was channelled into his left hand. His palm pushed against Aiden's nose, hoping that would maximise the disruption to the senses, throw the feisty and petulant shithead off. Had to cover his eyes a little bit. Push back his face at the same time. Inflict some pain, but not too much. Didn't want to be mistaken for the aggressor here. He wasn't. Ah fuck, maybe he had gone too far this time.

And that thought only happened to coincidentally coincide with the sharp pain as Aiden tugged at his hair. Ah, fuck, that hurt. He grimaced, closing his eyes. Couldn't show weakness. Not now, not never. He wasn't thinking straight. Just thrashing about. Trying to dislodge this obnoxious little shit off him. All he knew was that he had maybe gone too far, but couldn't back down now. Shit.

He felt Aiden's anguished words against his hand. Felt them more than heard them. Accompanied by the spray of spit. Urgh. Immediately distracted again by another tug. Another rush of pain. Moving with his hair folicles. Aiden was really trying to tear them out. Fuck. This couldn't go on. He closed his eyes again, blinking back the few drops of tears that threatened to be prompted out. Wouldn't give in so easily.

Moved his hand, to the side of Aiden's head. Half to escape the barrage of spit, half to mimic his actions. The strategy might be more effective here. Had space to pull Aiden's head back. Lift him up a bit. Take back control.

His other hand, shit, Bradley didn't even know. Maybe it was just flailing about, limply and ineffectively. Or maybe it was doing damage. It was clenched, making contact with skin every now and then. He didn't know.

His left hand finally grabbed onto Aiden's hair, a bit of his earlobe too. His arm stretched back, hoping to yank Aiden off.
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