James looked at me, and raised his eyebrows.
"I don't care." I mumbled. His eyes held mine for a minute, and I read his exhaustion there. He was beyond tired, beyond caring where we ended up. He just wanted both of us to be safe and happy.
"What's involved?" he asked, voice low and tired.
"You'd get paid for stealing Pokémon. The more rare and unusual, the more money you get." the guy said in his hissing voice. James looked at me again, and sighed, shoulders slumping.
"We need money..." he said wistfully.
"I know." I said.
"Okay, I guess." he said. We followed the guy in the black uniform to a headquarters somewhere out in the woods. A secret compound.
That was when we met Giovanni for the first time. 'The Boss'. We stood before him in our normal everyday clothes and stared.
I'd never seen anyone so sinister in my entire life. His face was half in shadows, and a Meowth with a self-satisfied smirk sat on the armrest of his chair. I could see the man's smile, and it made me shiver. This could be a very dangerous man.
As his hand slowly stroked the Meowth, Giovanni explained Team Rocket to us.
There were three divisions, he said, the Trainee Division, the Abroad Division, and the elite Mercenary Division. We were to be started in the Trainee Division, and when we were fully trained, we would move up to the Abroad Division and have a little more freedom. If we got really, really good, we might even be moved on to the Mercenary Division.
"For now, you won't have partners. There are two training camps, one for males, one for females. They're on the same property, though, as some friends enjoy visiting. You may only visit at evening mealtime, as the training is very tough, and you'll be required to study as well. Do you have any secular Pokémon training or education?"
"We each have a Pokémon." I spoke up, and James finished for me.
"We both just flunked out of Pokémon Tech and have been living on our own for about three or four months now."
"Good...good..." Giovanni purred, stroking the Meowth again, "Now this member will bring you to the hidden training camp, give you your uniforms and get you settled."
The cat looked up, "What?" it demanded in a scratchy gangster accent. I jumped.
"That...the...Meowth..." James stuttered.
"Yeah. I can talk. What's it to ya? Come with me, I'll get ya yer stuff." he grumbled, jumping nimbly off the arm of Giovanni's chair and onto the floor. He padded on all fours in front of us, and Giovanni turned his back to the room, dismissing us.
"C'mon." the Meowth said shortly, and padded down the hallway. We followed it nervously, and it led us to a dark room where there were stacks of boxes and stuff.
"What size are ya?" Meowth demanded.
"Um...size 10." I said haltingly, not really wanting to divulge that. James said his size, which was slightly larger than he looked at first glance. Meowth dug in the boxes until he handed us each a black uniform, hat and extra Poké ball, empty.
"I'll take ya to yer quarters in the camps, and then you can change there." Meowth informed us, and we followed him in silence again. I felt like I was joining the army or something. And how could I handle being away from James for most of the day for who knew how long until we were trained? I had learned the hard way that James was the only person I could trust, and I didn't like to be alone for that long, away from him.
I lifted my eyes shyly to his face to find him staring at me. When he saw my eyes meet his, he looked away, red streaking across his face. I tried to put the image of his blush out of my mind, not ready to quite admit the way I knew he felt about me. I wasn't sure what I thought of him yet, and definitely not ready to enter another relationship for fear of losing him too...
Meowth lead us to the female compound first, and James looked distinctly uncomfortable, especially as all the girls just stared at him.
"Hey, pretty boy." said one.
"What a hunk." another girl mocked in a sarcastic voice. I could feel the anger building up in my chest, and so I simply put my arm through his, as if to claim ownership. James relaxed somewhat.
"Here's yer bed." Meowth said, dumping the uniform on the neatly smoothed black comforter. There was a large red 'R' printed on it. Then Meowth dragged James away to the male's compound. I nervously looked around and scooped up the uniform to take a better look at it. It was a simple pair of black coveralls with a turtle-neck, and a large red 'R' on the front. The hat was perfectly up with the latest trend, and I slid it over my hair with satisfaction. Comfy.
I looked up and discovered that a curtain could be pulled to isolate the bed in its own private area, like a room. I pulled closed the curtain and changed into the uniform. When I pulled the curtain back again, I saw a bunch of girls settling onto their beds, pulling off hats and boots to rub their feet. A long day of training, over. I sat on the bed, distinctly uncomfortable. I needed James something terrible for company.
"Hey, new girl." said one of the other young ladies there. She was tall and looked strong, like she worked out. She had long silver-blue hair pulled back into a long, flowing ponytail, and bangs over a red headband with a small black 'R' in the center. She wore the same coveralls, only hers had a small nametag on the center of the collar. It read 'Lesla, Rocket Trainer'. So this was the woman I had to listen to, the woman who would train me. I closed my eyes.
"Yes?" I asked. I was still completely numb inside.
"Come here. I'm going to put you through your paces privately, just to see what you've got in you. Follow me." she said, leading me out of the enclosure. I heard the babble of voices raising as we left the building. Probably talking about me.
"Okay. I guess you can see my name's Lesla. I am not here to torture you, no matter how much it seems like it. I actually want you kids to get good enough to be Abroad Members, and that's why I'm tough on you. Okay, first test...obstacle course."
She pointed, and I saw a set of tires on the ground, a wall and unknown obstacles behind it.
"Go." Lesla said, and I sprinted obediently towards the tires. Lesla had a stopwatch out behind me. I concentrated hard, and only stumbled once when the unfamiliar weight of the thick leather boots I wore pulled me down. I ran towards the wall and dug my fingers into the first fingerhold I saw, and pulled myself up by the arms. My arms had always been really strong. I managed to only fall off the wall once, considering the gloves gave me a little extra grip, and got over safely. What I then beheld scared the living daylights out of me. Barbed wire. And I had to climb under it.
The first thing I did was remove my hat. Lesla smiled at that, and kept looking at her stopwatch. I stuck my hat in my belt and fell flat on my face. I crawled as hard and fast as possible. Before long, I was hopelessly tangled by my hair. Angry, I ripped it out of the wire and staggered through the end, hoping James wasn't suffering this bad. I felt humiliated, and inadequate.
I finished the course and stood in front of Lesla, pulling the hat down over my once-again ravaged hair. Lesla smiled.
"10 minutes. Not bad for your first time." she remarked, "Now get inside and socialize a little bit before its supper with the boys."
"Okay." I said, almost unable to wait until I could see James again. It didn't seem like a soul in this whole place cared what happened to me except James. Heck, nobody in the whole world cared about me except James.
I walked stiffly into the building and stood in front of a mirror with my brush. I carefully fixed my hair and pulled the hat down over my eyes, settling on my bed and trying to look as unhospitable as possible. If I could concentrate on just qualifying for Abroad Duty, then I could partner up with James and that would be that. We could get on with life.
"Hi." said a voice suddenly. I lifted the hat and looked at the girl who sat on the end of my bed. She was obviously Native American, she had dark skin and long black hair with a single tiny braid down the left side of her face, to the end of her hair. Her black eyes examined me closely, although she looked kind of shy. She held the Rocket hat in her hands, twisting it nervously.
"Hi." I said, pulling my hat down again, trying to get across that I didn't want to talk to anyone unless that person happened to be James.
"My name's Sundance. What's yours?" she asked.
"Jessica. Jessi for short." I said abruptly.
"Nice to meet you." she said, unsurely holding her hand out to me. I decided to be a little nice and take her hand. She shook it, and a broad smile washed over her face.
"I don't really have any friends here." she started, and I looked right into her eyes again, completely understanding the feeling, "And I have no idea who my partner is going to be, when I qualify for Abroad. I was just wondering if you'd like to...hang out...or whatever."
"Sure. I guess so." I said, pulling my hat off. Maybe I could try to see if anyone else in the world was trustworthy besides James. As long as the person was female. I was definitely not ready to trust another male besides James.
"D'you have a partner?" she asked politely. I smiled.
"Oh. What's his name?"
"James. He's the guy who came in here with me."
Sundance blushed, "He's kinda cute."
"You think so? I never noticed." I lied.
"Oh. Isn't it hard to miss? Well, different tastes..." she mumbled, going a shade redder, if that was possible.
We continued to talk, and I was actually starting to not mind her.
James was scared, plain and simple. Almost all the other guys looked like they'd been pumping metal for years, and James almost felt like the 'pretty boy' he'd been called earlier. Everyone was mocking him. Except this one guy who was a little shorter than him with a shock of shaggy blond hair. James sat shyly on his bed, waiting for his training to begin.
Up walked the biggest guy of all, who had a nameplate on the collar of his Rocket uniform that read 'Animal, Rocket Trainer', and a red headband with a small black 'R' on it. James looked up...and up...and up at him and lifted a hand to wave, unable to speak.
"So, kid. I better start yer training, eh?" the man asked, wrapping a beefy hand around James's upper arm and dragging him out the door.
"Go, pansy!" one of the other guys yelled. James went beet red. He hated being called that. It was *so* not true.
He was presented with an obstacle course, which was surprisingly easy. He only messed up a couple times. It only took him 10 minutes to run, and he ended up feeling kind of good about his time. When he went back in he sat uncomfortably on his bed, feeling like everyone was staring at him. Finally the blond haired guy walked over and stood over James, who looked up like he was scared.
"Hi. The name's Kidrow." the blond boy said.
"Call me Kid for short. So. Ya got a partner yet?"
"Yes. She's my best friend..." James started, and felt a blush wash over his cheeks.
"Ya like her?"
"I guess. I never really thought about it." James said, confused. He'd honestly never thought too hard about it. Maybe he did...maybe he didn't.
"What's her name?"
"Jessi...ca. I usually call her Jessi for short."
"What's she look like? She cute?"
"Pretty." James corrected, "Not cute."
"Oh. One of those." Kid said, like he knew, "There's a lot of hot chicks here. Like the one who came in a while ago. She has this red hair..."
"That's Jessi!" James said sharply. Kid looked embarrassed.
"Well, I'm not saying I want her as a partner. She's just cute."
"Pretty." James said vaguely, trying to mull over the thought that had just implanted itself on his mind. What if Jessi decided to try for another boyfriend to make up for Cyglass? His heart thumped with an odd despair when he thought of that. What if she didn't want to be *his* partner anymore? Where would he go? What could he do all alone?
He was scared of what that would do to him. The fear translated onto her. He was scared of her because she could completely shatter him with the simple action of leaving him all alone.
"Supper!" the supervisor shouted, "Girl time!"
They all filed out to the shared dinner hall where they could mingle freely with the girls. James searched for the shock of red hair as if his life depended on it.
And, in a way, it did.
"James!" I said, a little too loudly and a lot too eagerly when I spotted his lavender hair in the crowd. I forced myself to calm down, as I watched him smile and walk over towards me, trailing a not-bad-looking guy with blond hair. Sundance still stood beside me, and she looked the blond up and down shyly.
"Hey Jess." he said with a guarded cheerfulness, shooting a slightly suspicious look over at the blond boy, who stuck his hand out confidently.
"Hi. The name's Kidrow. Call me Kid for short." he said, "James was just telling me about you."
I shook the kid's hand briefly, and looked at James. I think he'd be dead if looks could kill. He stared at the floor. Where did he get off talking about me behind my back? Then again, I'd done the same thing when Sundance asked about my partner...who cared anyway? I was just going to be angry at James because I was in one of those...angry moods. I was in a place I didn't like and forced away from my best friend for most of the day. I was *not* in a good mood.
"This is my friend Sundance." I said in the same icy voice I'd used on the Tech bullies almost a year before.
"Hi." she said shyly, holding out her hand for Kid to take.
"Hey." Kid said suddenly, laughing, "Sundance. Kid. Jessi. James. What are we, refugees from the Old West?"
I pointedly ignored the remark, choosing to look at James again. We decided to find a table and I seated myself beside James, firmly up against his left shoulder, claiming him again. Sundance sat across from me and Kid sat beside her.
"So...Jessi, who you gonna partner up with?" Kid asked me nonchalantly as we ate in almost-silence. I looked up and met James's eyes.
"James." I said, without question.
"Yep." he replied, shovelling in a spoonful.
Kid gave up flirting with me and started flirting with Sundance, who flirted back quite naturally. Perfect. Now I could talk to James, and catch up on what we'd missed in the few hours we'd been apart.
"So, James, how did things go for you today?" I asked.
"Well I did okay on my testing. 10 minutes. I was lonely though. No one talked to me but Kid."
"I know what you mean. Just being together all the time, just you and me, it kind of makes the interpersonal skills go away, know what I mean?"
"Yeah. But, I don't really mind being with you. I actually like it...Jessi, I just wanted to ask you something."
"I know its a stupid place to ask, but do you still believe in the vow? Do you still agree with it?"
"Of course. I promised I'd keep it." I said. Horror had embedded in my stomach when the question 'Why is he asking?' was answered in my mind by 'I haven't been too faithful to it lately...especially in the gang...'
"I know you'll keep it. You always keep your promises." he said, smiling, "I just wondered if you still believe in it. If you really *care* about me, deep down inside. I know you'll never leave me...but do you care?"
I looked at him, letting myself get lost in his eyes. No, not in that romantic...'oooh you're so beautiful' way. There's just always so much to see in James's eyes, it's easy to sit there and read his whole soul. I don't know if anyone else can do that but me...
I saw fear. He was scared. Terrified. Of me.
Scared of me...of all people. Me, who had promised to care about him forever.
"Yes." I said simply, "I always will, James."
He relaxed visibly.
"Whoa...deep." intoned a voice from across the table. We both looked up, blushing, to see Sundance and Kid staring at us. Sundance was sympathy blushing.
Dinner ended all too soon and I had to go back to the female compound. Before James left me for the another long day, he grabbed my hand and squeezed it firmly.
He said thousands of words with that simple squeeze.
That night I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep. I could hear various snores, rhythmic sleep breathing, but none of it could lull me to sleep. I realized I'd come to depend on the sound of James's breathing to put me to sleep. I don't think I'd ever felt so alone in my entire life. I rolled over on my stomach and put my pillow over my head, blocking out the sound of the room I slept in.
I remembered one time, on a rainy day, when James and I had been in the bike gang, a month or so before. I'd been with him non-stop all day in the hideout, with none of the gang stopping in to see us. All I wanted was some no-James company, so in desperation I'd settled in a corner with a thick novel. He came over and sat beside me and asked if I could read it out loud to him. I'd gotten frustrated and shouted at him.
I could remember my words clear as day.
"What? Is there a rule saying Jessi and James *must* be together, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?"
Lying there, with a pillow over my head, unable to sleep without him, I realized there was.
I concentrated hard, thickening the silence and then filling it with a memory of how he breathed when he slept. The memory put me to sleep.
The next day was a studying day. I guess that was a big break, since we were allowed to lounge around in whatever state of disarray we wanted to as long as we were studying. Sundance sat on the end of my bed and I lay flat out on my stomach while we drilled each other on the attacks of poison Pokémon. I didn't really pay a lot of attention, since I knew most of that from Tech already and I was preoccupied with thinking about James. Wondering what he was doing without me. Wondering if he missed me. Wondering what kind of person he was when I wasn't there.
"Jessi! Jessi? Hello? You in there?" Sundance demanded. I looked over at her.
"Weezing's strongest attack?"
"Where were you?"
"About James?" she asked. I nodded.
"You're really hung up on him, aren't you?"
"Well...yes and no." I said vaguely, fiddling with a page of the book I was reading. There was no way she could understand. Even I wasn't sure what I thought of James. It was somewhere between 'best friend' and 'the person I want to spend the rest of my life with'. I definitely knew we weren't meant to be seperated. Sundance smiled at me as I slipped into oblivion again, and studied to herself.
The days settled into a pattern. Sleep in because James wasn't there to wake me up, and catch heck for it. Then get ready for the day. Eat breakfast girls-only, and then train. Most of the training was painful and frightening. Usually Sundance and I ended up bandaging each other.
I lived for dinner, when I could talk to James and get out all the frustration building up inside me. I wanted to go, to leave. We all knew we were going to be qualified soon, and Sundance and Kid had decided to be partners. James and I both knew they liked each other, and so when it was dinnertime we just let them talk and we managed to do our own catching up.
Then one evening, me and Sundance sat waiting for the guys to come. All the other guys had come, but our boys weren't showing up. I craned my neck and looked all around, searching in vain for the lavender-blue color I knew so well.
"I wonder where he is?!" Sundance said, in a similar state about Kid as I was about James. We waited...and waited...both of us were starting to get worried when Kid walked up and sat down beside Sundance. He looked exhausted.
And he was alone.
"Where's James?!" I demanded. Kid stirred a spoon in his soup.
"Infirmary." he mumbled, "He got hurt."
My head pounded and I went dead cold, "What did he do to himself?"
"Well, you know the ropes we have to cross over the rocks? He fell."
"Well, he was bleeding a lot. I think he hit his head on a rock and ended up with a concussion. I don't think he broke his head open..." Kid said, trying to be funny through his worry. Sundance patted his hand.
Bleeding? My James, bleeding?
I stood quickly, "I'll bring him some food." I said, trying to keep the fear out of my voice.
"The nurse probably fed him." Kid said, "If he's awake yet."
"Well, then I'll go see if he's okay. I have to see with my own eyes." I said, daring them to make a mocking remark about how I was 'hung up on him' or some other fool thing like that. They didn't say a word.
I left my dishes and asked Lesla if I could go see James. I explained that he was my best friend and she let me go. Lesla was nicer than she seemed at first.
I walked over to the little infirmary shack as fast as my legs would carry me, without running. When I went past the boys' area, I looked and saw blood on the rocks under the ropes strung out between two platforms. A fall of about six feet.
I moved a little faster. Fortunately the infirmary was co-ed so I could walk right in and see my James. And I saw him as soon as I walked in, since he was the only one there. I looked at the nurse, a Joy who had gone bad, and she nodded at me. I took a second look at her. She had her pink hair loose from under her nurse's hat, which had an 'R' on it, and wore a Team Rocket uniform. It was odd to see a Nurse Joy in a Team Rocket uniform.
I walked over to his bedside and looked down at him. His face was smeared with dried blood and sweat and his hair was matted with blood and dirt. They hadn't even cleaned him off. I looked around and saw a bowl of water on the side table with a cloth soaking in it.
"This clean?" I asked the Joy behind the counter, gesturing at the water. She looked up from her 'Guns and Ammo' magazine and nodded. I scooped up the cloth and gently ran it over his face to clean it. His eyes opened slightly, and I saw their soft green. I knelt down so my face was level with his.
"Hi James." I whispered. He smiled vaguely.
I put my hand on his face and stroked my fingers along his cheekbone.
"Almost got yourself killed, huh?"
"Eh, I'll probably be out by..." he winced in pain as he tried to move his head to see me better, "...tomorrow...Nothing serious."
"Tell me another one." I smirked, running my fingers as gently as I could through his hair to break up the bloody clumps. I ran the cloth down each piece and cleaned it out somewhat, then soaked the cloth again and started on his nose and mouth. Obviously his nose had bled, and his lip was split badly. He'd bled from that too.
As I worked on him he closed his eyes and relaxed completely. He had the utmost trust in me, and that kind of made me feel good. I pulled aside the hair I'd cleaned and looked at his scalp. There was a cut, which was pasted sickeningly on top of a large bump. It gave me a headache just looking at it.
"Got yourself an impressive bump, hmm, James?" I said. He forced another smile.
"Yeah, yeah." he mumbled.
We talked for a long time, while he explained what happened, and I told him about my day. It was lights-out by the time I left. As I stood up to leave he looked at me fondly and I bent down to plant a soft, friendly kiss in the middle of his bruised forehead.
James was fine again after a few days.
Things went on like normal for a few more months. After some more torturous training and studying it was exam day. Again.
Neither me nor James had good experiences with exams, so we stayed up studying all night. In seperate divisions, of course, but we studied nonetheless. I could almost sense him studying the same things I was.
We both passed this time.
I got 75% and he got 80%.
Hey, even bad guys can learn from mistakes, right?
We had qualified for the Abroad Division. Finally. We could leave that awful training place and run off to do our job without being seperated most of the day, without being deprived of each other. We could ride off into the sunset and capture other people's Pokémon.
Everyone who had a partner picked out already told Administration who they were, and the rest got paired up randomly. Me and James picked each other, then headed to Administration for our new uniforms and to get all our stats properly taken. We sat in the waiting room sipping coffee and reading the mangas someone had set out there. James was on his third cup of black coffee when we were called in.
"Jessi and James?" asked the secretary, who wore a Rocket uniform and carried a clipboard. We stood and followed her into a forest of little cubicles. Finally we were led into one of them and settled in the chairs. A woman sat behind the computer desk who had no-nonsense brown hair, blue eyes, glasses and a complete lack of smiling ability. The woman's face never changed. She handed James a laminated picture, which he showed to me. It demonstrated a male and female model wearing different uniform styles.
"We get to pick?" James said in a voice full of nervous tension. I nodded.
We looked at each other for a minute, down at the pictures, then up at each other again. We were both nervous because we were finally here, finally ready to go out on our own, make our own money and our own decisions.
But we could still read each other's minds.
"Uniform style?" the lady asked.
"003." we said at the same time.
"Good. No one ever seems to choose those. The Boss was thinking of having the style discontinued as soon as they run out. If he does, you two will be almost completely unique in Team Rocket."
We grinned at each other. We always ended up being different.
"Okay. Now for the stats. James, you first. Birth date?"
"June 29, 1981. I just turned 16 a few months ago."
"Hair and eye color?"
"Blue and green, respectively." he said. I stifled a laugh. No, lavender wouldn't have looked too masculine on the form.
"Okay. Now its Jessi's turn. Birth date?"
"December 26, 1982. I'm 15."
"Weight?" she asked. James looked at me, interested. I reminded myself to slap him later.
"110 lbs." I said, reddening.
"Hair and eye color?"
"Red and blue."
"Okay. That's that. You can go back into the waiting room now for your assignment. Next!" she said, dismissing us.
We stepped out and found ourselves in the waiting room again. The lady with the clipboard smiled.
"Jessi and James? Here's your assignment." she said, handing me a slip of blue paper, "You can change into your new uniforms right in there." she said, pointing her pencil at a door nearby. A sign above it read 'Changing Rooms'. We walked in, both a little confused, and seperated when another sign with arrows pointed out the mens' and womens' change rooms.
When we emerged, wearing our new uniforms, the clipboard lady told us that now we had to speak with the Boss quickly. He'd just told her he wanted to see James and I specially. She pointed to a door.
The room we stepped into was the same one we'd come into when we first joined.
"Ah. Jessi. James. I see the Team is all well." he said. We nodded.
"Sir!" we said in unison.
"I would like to assign this team a special responsibility. Take this Pokémon..." he said, holding out a Poké ball, "...and give it some worthwhile training. It's not at a very high level, and it gets no training here."
James reached out and took the red-and-white sphere from his hand.
"Which one is it?" James asked.
"Silence, fool." the Boss said, "You'll know when you call it out. You're dismissed."
Once we were on our way, the clipboard lady told us it was a good idea to compose a motto to say whenever we appeared, so people would know who we were, and wished us luck on our first mission. I knew James would be good for that, what with his excellent ability to write poetry.
Before we left, we saw Sundance and Kid standing together, and we said good-bye. We knew we probably wouldn't see them again for a while.
When we walked outside, James and I savored our newfound freedom for a moment, and decided to see which Pokémon we'd been given. James rolled the Poké ball around in his hand for a few seconds. I slapped his arm lightly.
"What are you doing? Throw it already!"
"The ball's got some Japanese words on it, right here..." he started. I smacked him again, on the shoulder.
"What was that for?" he demanded.
"For looking so interested in my weight earlier." I said, hands on hips. He rubbed his head and looked me up and down.
"You're not fat. You look really good in that uniform...In fact..." he started, and I glared him before he made the mistake of going a little *too* far. See, my uniform consisted of a very short white skirt, a tummy-baring black tank top with a white jacket over it that didn't cover much more than the black top. The white jacket showed off the large red 'R' of Team Rocket on the front. My uniform was accesorized only by long dark grey leather gloves and thigh-high boots.
The uniform James wore almost made him look buff. He was wearing a black shirt with a white jacket over it, with the large red 'R' emblazoned on the front. The way the jacket was cut off at the base of his rib cage made his chest and shoulders look bigger. The black shirt was tucked into a belt over white pants and mid-calf-height boots. He also wore a pair of leather gloves that reached the middle of his forearm.
I love a man in a uniform. Even if that man is James.
"Just throw the ball already!" I said.
He threw the Poké ball lightly, and it opened with a flash of light. A Pokémon stood there, scowling up at us.
"You better not ever stick Meowth in that thing again!" he said, grabbing the Poké ball from James's hand and hiding it, "I see you've been assigned Meowth as a guide."
"You could say that." James giggled, remembering the Boss's words. So this was the Pokémon we needed to give some 'extra training'. I started to laugh too.
"What's so funny? You laughin' at da Top Cat?"
We shook our heads in synchrony with each other, trying to hold back laughter.
"What's our first assignment?" James asked, hanging his head over my shoulder to see the blue slip clipboard lady had given me.