“Grammy! We’re here! We’re here!”
With the slam of a car door and the little girl’s excited squeals, Bonnie’s sleepy toys were jolted awake in the trunk. The seven friends were exhausted from their ordeal the night before, and had all drifted off while watching the horror film that had been previously interrupted. They roused slowly one by one, rubbing their eyes and stretching their limbs.
“I’m gonna guess we’re here,” Mr. Potato Head muttered sarcastically.
“And we still don’t know how the movie ended, do we?” remarked Trixie. “Third time’s the charm.”
Jessie raised her head from Buzz’s chest and planted a quick kiss on his cheek before getting up from his lap. She reached for her hat and straightened it on her head, while the space ranger cracked his back. He was stiff from the awkward sitting position they had slept in, but he didn’t mind. All that mattered to him now was that Jessie was with him, and was unharmed.
It was only a moment before the toys heard footsteps outside of the vehicle, and they scrambled to gather up the scattered contents of the suitcase, climb back in, and zip it closed.
“Wait’ll you see my new toys, Grammy!” Bonnie exclaimed as the trunk was opened. “And I got a DJ Blue Jay lunch box, just like my shirt!”
The family’s luggage was lifted out and wheeled into the tile-roofed, single-story southwestern house where Bonnie’s grandmother lived in Arizona. Inside the bag, the toys braced themselves as they rolled down the hall towards the guest room that Bonnie and her mother would be sharing during their week-long visit. The little girl lingered in the room once her mother had left, and she unzipped her bag and began to unpack her cherished belongings.
“Bonnie, lunch time!” her grandmother’s voice called from the kitchen.
After two trips up and down the hallway, Bonnie had carried all her toys to the living room and lined them up proudly on the sofa, before joining her family for lunch in the adjoining eat-in kitchen. The open space was sunny and warm, and three generations spent the afternoon talking happily. Bonnie showed her grandmother the toys she had been given just after she had seen her last summer, and told her of all the imaginative adventures she had been on since then. Later in the day, they prepared dinner together, and laughter lilted from the kitchen as they cooked and ate and chatted some more. Soon the little girl was fighting sleep in the corner of the sofa, the long journey and prior late night catching up with her and her mother both. They gathered Bonnie’s toys and retreated to bed, to rest up for sightseeing the next day.
As soon as the house was quiet, six of the toys jumped down from the armchair in the corner of the bedroom, where they had been left. Only Pricklepants slept in the double bed with Bonnie and her mother.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I want to see if Betsy ever got away from that vampire,” Woody said to the others, as they gathered on the floor. Whadd’ya say we give that movie one more try?” He reached in Bonnie’s suitcase and pulled out the portable DVD player.
“I’m game!” exclaimed Trixie.
“So am I,” Mr. Potato Head concurred. He looked toward the sleeping hedgehog on the bed behind them. “While there’s no commentary.”
Rex wrung his hands as he followed his friends to the bedroom door. “It’s scary, but I suppose I’ll watch if the rest of you are.”
Jessie shared a glance with Buzz. “I think we’re gonna pass, fellas,” she stated.
The space ranger agreed. “Yes, we thought we’d find someplace a little more, uh, quiet, after Jessie’s difficult day.” Potato Head rolled his eyes incredulously.
Woody, however, smirked in understanding at his best friend and sister. “Go, you two.” He waved his hand good-naturedly, ushering them along. “Just be sure you’re back by morning.”
As their friends situated themselves on the sofa, Buzz and Jessie headed instead to the sliding glass door leading outside. Jessie held back the floor-length curtain covering the door while Buzz carefully unlatched it and eased it open, and the couple slipped quietly out into the cool desert evening. Bonnie’s grandmother’s backyard, enclosed in its tall concrete wall, provided them complete privacy. A small in-ground swimming pool sat in the middle of the yard, shimmering in the moonlight, with sandy landscaping surrounding it. Adjacent to the house, a paved patio was tastefully decorated with metal furnishings, and pink bougainvillea climbed trellises on either side, creating a fluttery, flowery canopy. The cowgirl was instinctively captivated by the desert setting, and tugged her boyfriend’s hand to lead him further into the night air.
“Lookit the sky!” she marveled, staring upward. “I ain’t ever seen stars so bright!”
“That’s because we’re far from any big cities,” explained the space ranger, gazing alongside her at the constellations. “There aren’t enough bright lights to dim their glow.”
Jessie turned her head in another direction, and winced in pain. Buzz, still somewhat on alert from their earlier trials, was quick to notice.
“What’s wrong, Jessie?” he inquired, his eyes full of worry. “Are you injured?”
The cowgirl rubbed her neck with her free hand. “I’m fine. But that blasted lizard – I ache all over from fightin’ him.”
“Maybe you should sit and rest,” suggested Buzz, directing her towards the patio. Jessie hesitated.
“Really, I’m okay,” she insisted. “I wanna go explorin’ in the desert.” She gestured to the cacti that accented a corner by the wall, and again she flinched, the pain coming this time from the sudden movement of her arm.
“You’re not exploring anywhere tonight, cowgirl,” Buzz lectured. “We’re here for a week; there will be plenty of time for that later. Tonight, we’re going to go sit down and you’re going to let me take care of you.”
She smiled softly at his concern. Buzz placed an arm tenderly around her waist and guided his girl back to the patio, where they decided on a chaise lounge with a cushioned cover, off to the side and under the trellis. He helped Jessie raise herself onto the chair and then hopped up to join her.
Buzz made himself comfortable on the cushion and motioned for Jessie to come sit between his legs. She readily obliged, and he removed the cowgirl’s hat and brushed her braid aside before beginning to massage her shoulders. The space ranger felt her tense at his touch.
“Does that hurt? Do you want me to stop?” he questioned.
“No, it helps, honest,” she replied. “It’s jus’ gonna take a few days to work all the kinks out, like after Sunnyside. Remember?”
As his fingers worked across the cowgirl’s shoulders and back, Buzz’s mind returned to Sunnyside and the events that brought them to Bonnie, and brought them together. Had it only been six months? Being with Jessie felt so natural, it was like they had been a couple forever. And yet, six months felt like no time at all. What if… What if she hadn’t managed to get out of the box once she was sealed in? What if she and Woody hadn’t made it out of the truck in time? What if the iguana had torn her to shreds, or Bonnie hadn’t found them, all while he was trapped behind glass, unable to come to her rescue like he had so many times before? He was supposed to be the hero – what if everything he loved had been taken away from him, right in front of his eyes? Some hero. The space ranger tried to divert his thoughts and suppress the anguish welling up inside of him.
“Is that better?”
Jessie could have sworn she heard a crack in Buzz’s voice as he spoke. She twisted herself around in his lap to face him, and couldn’t help but see the suffering in his eyes. “Buzz, what is it?” She took his face lovingly in her hands, knowing it was hard for the stoic space ranger to talk about his feelings.
“I – I could have lost you,” he choked out. “So many times. I felt so helpless. All I wanted to do was protect you, and I couldn’t.”
“Shhh.” She let her hands slide from his face and entwined her arms around his neck, bringing their foreheads together. “You were there for me when I needed you most,” she soothed. “You did all you could. ‘Sides, you ain’t gettin’ rid of me that easy, not now that you’re fin’lly mine.”
The corners of Buzz’s mouth turned upwards as she spoke the word ‘mine.’ His. She was his, and she was here, safe and sound. He closed the narrow distance between them, capturing her lips in his with all the emotional intensity of the past twenty-four hours. Jessie reciprocated the kiss with equal fervor, shifting from her kneeling position to wrap her legs around his waist. All their pent-up tension and anxiety melted away as the couple felt a flood of relief and longing overwhelm them.
Jessie’s lips began to travel along Buzz’s jaw and neck, and the space ranger had no doubts of his cowgirl’s intentions. “Are you sure?” he asked, catching his breath. “If you’re still in pain–”
“You make it all better,” she purred into his ear.
“Oh, I do, hmm?” he teased, trailing kisses down her neck, which he knew was one of the sources of her discomfort. “Well, then, I have my work cut out for me tonight. But I accept the challenge.”
The first pink rays were breaking across the horizon when Buzz opened his eyes hours later. It took him a moment to remember where he was, until he felt Jessie snuggled against him, her head on his shoulder. He pressed his cheek against her soft hair, breathing in her scent and relishing her presence after all they’d been through. Reluctantly, he realized that they should rejoin the other toys in the guest room, before they were missed.
“Jessie.” Buzz kissed the sleeping cowgirl’s forehead. “It’s time to get back to Bonnie.” He caressed her shoulder, trying to waken her gently.
“Mmmm,” she mumbled in protest, nuzzling her head into the crook of his neck.
Buzz chuckled. “C’mon, cowgirl,” he nudged. “Do you really want to make Woody mad at us for being late, again?”
“Jus’ a few more minutes, ‘k?” Jessie hugged him tighter, and he returned the embrace, a blissful sense of peace washing over them both. She blinked her eyes, slowly adjusting to the faint, early morning light.
The couple watched the sun rise from a completely different vantage point than they had the day before. The memories of their trials at the Sleep Well Motel wouldn’t soon leave them, but at least one positive result had come of it. Buzz had always known that Jessie was strong – her determined, independent spirit had been one of the first things that attracted him to her – but he never quite realized the depth of her inner strength and beauty until he had seen her fight for everything she held dear, alone. He didn’t think that he could feel any greater love for her than he had for so many years past, but he did now. And while his primary concern at the time had been to keep her safe, he was surprised to find that the experience had ended up giving him a new sense of security. He knew he didn’t have to carry burdens solely on his shoulders anymore. They were equals, more than ever. Jessie would battle alongside him, to keep them safe in their future, and safe in their love. There was nothing that the two of them couldn’t conquer. Together.