Amidst the laughter and barking some distance away, the toys became aware of something that seemed much closer. A strange sound, as if something was scraping against the box. Then a soft squeaking before things fell silent around them again.
At least until the box lid suddenly opened again, causing them all to jump. But what really surprised them was when Woody jumped inside with them.
"Woody!" they all exclaimed.
"Woody, what're you...?" Buzz began, but was quickly silenced by Woody.
"Shh..." the sheriff said, quickly closing the box lid again. "Andy's coming."
The sound of approaching footsteps confirmed the cowboy's statement, and they all seemed to hold their breaths when the footsteps stopped beside the box. They all waited curiously, then quickly froze when the box was opened once more and Andy looked inside.
All of them except Woody, who somehow managed to dig his way underneath the others without being noticed.
But even as they wondered what he was up to, none of them could react as Andy looked at them, his eyes growing wide as he saw them. A smile slowly appeared on his face, relief passing through his expression as he carefully picked up Buzz and Rex, looking from one to the other. He glanced into the box again, and he seemed truly glad to see that his old toys were all right.
Then he paused, his smile fading a little as it was replaced by a thoughtful expression. He placed the two back inside and closed the box, and the toys listened as he said, "Hey, Mom? So...you really think I should donate these?"
A sense of panic seemed to fill the cardboard container as they all turned to each other. "Donate?" Mr. Potato Head echoed. "What's he talking about, 'donate'?"
"He's not thinking of giving us away now, is he?" Mrs. Potato Head asked, anxiously gripping her husband's hand.
"Guys," Woody said, trying to get their attention. "We'll be fine – " He stopped short when the box was lifted up, and they felt they were being carried.
But Buzz glanced at Woody, blinking in surprise. Something about what Woody said left him curious, but before he could ask, Jessie grabbed his hand and attention. "Buzz, look!" she said, pointing at the box's handle hole.
He paused as he looked out, and his eyes widened when he noticed they were heading down the stairs. "He's not putting us in the attic...?"
"We are gettin' donated!" Slinky exclaimed.
"Shh!" Woody warned, oddly calm about the situation. "He'll hear us!"
"But didn't ya hear?" Rex said, turning to Woody. "Andy's donating us...for real this time!" He gasped. "What if he takes us back to Sunnyside?"
"Oh great," Hamm groaned. "Back to the tormenting toddlers..."
"Guys, we're not..." Woody tried again, but trailed off when they heard the sound of the car door open. They were a bit jostled as they were placed down, but they remained steady enough on their feet, listening as the door shut.
Carefully Buzz peaked out the handle hole again, making sure things were clear before pushing the box lid open, revealing that they were placed on the car's passenger seat. They all looked out just in time to see Andy heading back into the house.
"After all that," Slinky said dejectedly, "I can't believe we're bein' given away after all."
"It'll be okay, Slink," Woody assured, leaning against the walls of the box. "Really, it's a good place."
"How would you know?" Mr. Potato Head shot back.
The cowboy pushed his hat up a little bit. "Because I'm the one who suggested it, and I'm the one who gave Andy the address."
The toys turned to Woody sharply, gaping at him. "What?"
"Is your hat on too tight?" Mr. Potato Head said.
"Yeah, what were you thinking?" Hamm said.
The cowboy smiled, almost a little smugly. "It's what you wanted, isn't it? To get played with again?"
They all froze, Woody's unexpected words startling them. Their protests died, and their frantic expressions softened to uncertain curiosity.
Seeing now that he had their full attention, Woody straightened up. "I've already been there," he explained, "and I think you'd all like it there. It's really close by, and the little girl who lives there is a good kid. Almost as good as Andy."
Jessie's eyes widened, and she could see the same shock on everyone else's faces. For Woody to compare this child – any child – to Andy was a high compliment. And for a moment a wave of intrigue rose over them, bringing an urge to meet this girl who could bring such words out of the sheriff.
They all quickly snapped out of their curiosity, though, when movement caught their attention, and they looked up to see Andy and the family coming back to the car. And the toys realized, as the family paused just nearby, that they were running out of time.
"C'mon, Woody," Buzz said as he hopped out of the box and crouched on the cardboard edge. He knew that if Woody said they would be okay, then they would be okay. But he was more worried about the sheriff than himself. "We gotta hurry and get you back into one of Andy's college boxes before he gets back."
Woody shook his head. "I'm not going, Buzz."
Once again, the toys all turned to look at Woody, their surprise widening their eyes drastically. "What?"
"But, Woody," Buzz said, jumping back into the box, "if you stay, you might be given away with us!"
Woody gave them a small, odd smile that was difficult to understand, and all he said was a soft, "I know."
Buzz and Jessie exchanged curious expressions. "But…I thought you wanted to stay with Andy," the cowgirl said, turning back to Woody.
"I do." He glanced outside briefly, his smile softening as it became one of fondness. "And I will." Then he turned back to the others. "But the important thing now is that we all stay together."
The toys looked at each other again. They still didn't quite understand what he meant, or why he had changed his mind, but there was barely any time for the confusion to settle among them when they saw Andy approaching again. They quickly closed the box, falling silent as the door opened and closed again. Then there was the roar of the engine coming to life, and a moment later they felt the car slowly moving and taking off.
The drive didn't feel very long, however, when the car soon came to a stop.
"Boy, that was quick," Hamm murmured.
Woody grinned. "Just around the corner," he whispered back, listening to what was going on outside.
Soon they felt the box being lifted again, and they all held their breaths as Andy slowly stepped out of the car and started walking.
For a moment there was nothing but silence. Then a small voice, muffled by the cardboard walls, was heard; "Mom…?"
They all glanced towards Woody; they could tell by the grin on his face that that must be the girl he had mentioned earlier.
Still smiling, Woody then turned to his friends. They wore expressions of worry and uncertainty, but also of curiosity and anticipation, as though finally understanding the chance they were being offered but too afraid to hope for it. "Don't worry," he said, hoping his words were enough to reassure them. "Trust me, everything will be all right."
The other toys exchanged glances once again. They still weren't sure how to feel about all this; after everything that happened at Sunnyside, a definite future in the attic had been welcomed, and a change like this brought a multitude of uncertainties. But they knew better than to doubt Woody now – especially now, after all he had done for them…after he had given up Andy. If Woody was confident enough about his choice to leave Andy and lead them to this, then they would trust him.
After all, he had chosen to stay with them. As long as he was with them, and as long as they were together, they knew it would all turn out fine.