He had her name under his boot to remember her.
He didn't spend much time with her, nor did he have notably special memories of playtime. But Bonnie was once his kid, and Woody would always care for her, no matter what.
Sometimes, he still wondered if Bonnie had noticed he was missing. But either way, he didn't mind. He could only smile when he was thinking how much care she took of his friends. And he could only thank her for reminding him how fun a simple game can be, and how lovely it feels when a child holds you near while sleeping. Bonnie was a good girl and Woody was sure she would grow up to be a wonderful person every member of the old gang would be proud of.
He had the wind to remember Bullseye.
Woody immediately loved him from the moment he saw him. He always had a feeling that something strong connected them. Oh, how he missed the warm sense of his muzzle under his hand! And his never-ending habits of licking his face, that used to annoy him when he was being extra, now he remembered them with the sweetest nostalgia. Woody could always rely on Bullseye for a quick ride, if ever need was. It seemed amazing to Woody how such a cute and sensitive creature could also be the fastest and bravest steed one could ask for! From now on, whenever he would feel the wind on his face, he would straight away remember how it felt when he was riding Bullseye to another daring adventure!
He had the marks on his fabric chest, where his old badge used to be, to remember Jessie.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, Woody would feel like something was missing. He would frequently make spontaneous moves to correct his badge after a high jump or a big fall, only to find it missing. But he was sure beyond a doubt that he had left it in good hands. He could only beam in happiness imaging Jessie wearing it proudly. And he was sure that every time she would hold it in her arms, she would think of him too. It seemed like only yesterday when she would teasingly pull his voice string without his permission causing him to get angry. Now his voice string was also missing, but it was in good hands too.
Woody missed even his and Jessie's fights, because he always knew that they would make up eventually. He laughed when he remembered how stubborn she could get and he wished he could make her angry only one more time, so he could talk with her and reconcile again. It always felt so good afterwards! And while now Woody was feeling an emptiness in his chest, his heart was much, much fuller after having Jessie in his life. It was in the end a fair exchange; he may have given up his badge, but every time he would reach out to touch his heart, he would find Jessie there.
He had the stars to remember Buzz.
Back when he was at Andy's or Bonnie's house, he couldn't see many stars at night. Very few were visible through the window. Besides, a crowded city filled with lights was not the best spot to gaze the skies.
Now with Bo they would often lay in the grass, or beside a lake, and they would admire the stars. One time they were really far from any town, and the night sky was just a marvel! Woody could never imagine that the sky could look so beautiful or that so many stars even existed in the universe! He did try to count them on several occasions, but he would either lose count after a while, or fall asleep before he could make it any far, or some of Bo's comments would interrupt his calculations.
To some, stars were romantic. And indeed, looking at them with his beloved was magical to say the least. To others, they were just a natural phenomenon that was interesting from a scientific perspective. And indeed, Woody was fascinated by how many lightyears away they were and still he could feel like he could just reach out his hand and grab one. And to others, well, stars were nothing.
But to Woody, stars were Buzz. Each time he looked up to them, he would see a space ranger laughing. Maybe there were little green aliens with three eyes up there, maybe there weren't. Maybe there was the space command base orbiting around the Earth, receiving transmissions and boring reports from its members, maybe there wasn't. But whatever the case, Buzz Lightyear was always up there in the sky. And no matter how far the stars seemed, he knew Buzz would always be near. And sometimes when he looked at the stars, Woody could swear he heard a familiar voice saying: "To infinity and beyond!"
It was hilarious when he thought he was a real space ranger! Woody would laugh out loud when he remembered it, no matter how many years had passed. And he felt the stars were laughing together with him. He now cherished all those moments he spend with his friend. After all, he was his only friend for a while, when they were in Sid's house. And how Woody now hated himself for not being a friend to Buzz from the very beginning, when he landed on their room! If only he became his friend one week earlier, even a day! Because now that he was gone he understood how precious a day with him could be. And while they spent years with each other, Woody would never stop feeling that they could have experienced so much more together.
He had the red threads on his right arm, from back when his arm was ripped off and Andy fixed him.
He had those threads to remember Andy, but honestly he didn't need them, because he was thinking about him a lot either way. Every time he saw a young boy, Andy would come back to his mind.
Their playtime, the consolation on his difficult days by just holding Woody tightly in his arms, his proud and happy look whenever he would show him to other kids… Woody missed all those things!
And all the times Woody desperately wanted to break the rules and just talk to him when he was sad or confused, or he was crying. Let him know he was there, that he was there the whole time. Give him some advice. Tell him that the kids who mocked him were wrong, and tell him what a wonderful child he was!
"If only he knew", Woody thought to himself many times. And then: "If only I knew!"
Woody back then did not realize how lucky he was. He would give anything for just another day with Andy. Even without playing. Just looking at him. Seeing what kind of person he has become. Only hearing his voice, the voice he'll never forget.
At least he was lucky on one thing. He knew it when it was the last time he played with him. Other toys don't have that opportunity. And for many years before that, Woody thought that he wouldn't have it either. And he was also afraid, while he was in Andy's car, that he would just give the box to Bonnie and then he would immediately take off for college. But he didn't. He played with him. He held him just like he used to do. Just like always.
Woody just wanted to know how he was now. There had not been much time since he last saw him. He knew that a few years probably wouldn't cause a dramatic difference to his life, and he could already guess how things were going for him. He would be a good student in college. He would often visit his mom; he was always so supportive and caring of her since she was left alone. He would take Molly to some of his classes and he would scold her for not studying enough for school.
All those things Woody could imagine. They were information he could just hear from someone who knows. But it was actually the small things he missed the most. The daily details of his life, what did he eat for lunch, how he had written on his exam, who did he meet on his way to school, how cold was he in the snowy night, all those insignificant stuff that wouldn't have any impact at all and yet their importance was insurmountable.
The threads he had used to fix him were now a part of him. Just like Andy himself was and would always be a part of him.
He missed him.
He missed Buzz, Jessie, Bullseye… Slinky, one of his very first friends! Mr Potato Head's sarcastic comments… Hamm's wide knowledge of technical stuff that would always emerge in the most random moments… Rex's obsession with video-games… Bonnie's amazing fantasy… And of course Andy. Everything about him.
Woody missed everything! But he had something of each one to remember and hold into his heart. After all, he already knew what it felt like to be away from your loved ones, all those years before meeting Bo Peep again.
"So, where do you think we should—" his lovely shepherdess said when she entered the paper house they had made for the night, but her question was cut off when she noticed Woody's abstract look, accompanied by a sad smile. His eyes were locked on the paper wall, his head placed in his hands. Bo Peep was certain that he didn't even realize she had walked in. It was like he wasn't there.
She smiled. It wasn't an unusual condition those days; she would often find him wandering off in his mind. They had talked about it. He was missing his friends, and it was rational and expected, considering how loyal and devoted he always was. But he had not regretted it. The decision he took, the new purpose he had found in his life, the fulfillment he felt while helping other toys, he would never change them. It was the right decision, and it felt right, but right isn't always easy.
Bo Peep gently caressed his shoulder and sat beside him.
"Mind if I join you, Sheriff?"
His eyes suddenly brightened up.
"Hey, there you are! What took you so long?" he asked concerned, but it was her that felt more concerned of the two.
"Woody, are you alright?" she whispered in a caring voice while rubbing the back of his neck.
"Yeah, just a little tired" he said and faked a yawn.
Bo Peep's usual grimace of disbelief appeared in her porcelain face.
"Alright, alright!" Woody laughed. "You miss nothing! You know… I… I just had a bit of nostalgia crisis. Nothing too odd, I'll get over it".
"You mean nothing too odd for a middle-aged toy" she teased him and pulled his hat down to cover half of his face.
"Oh, you think you are so funny!" Woody said while taking off his hat. "You know that we both prefer it when you don't pull it that down and then you caress my cheek".
"The same cheek that immediately turns red?"
Exactly that happened then, and they both burst out in laughter.
A few moments later, the sheriff looked the girl deep into her majestic blue eyes, took her small hands into his own and said:
"Bo, I'm sorry if I give the impression that I'm not happy being here. Because I really am".
"I know" she reassured him. "You don't have to be sorry about anything. It's natural to miss how things were. Adjusting takes time".
"Yeah…" he let out a small sigh, and after moments of pure silence and holding hands, he said: "How did you do it?"
"When you left Andy's house. It must have been very difficult".
"Sure, it was the only home I had known".
"But you came out of it stronger. You coped through everything. I'm very proud of you and of what you have grown to be. But I cannot help but wonder; how did you manage to move on?"
"Well, at the beginning… I didn't".
Woody's eyes widened.
"But you know what they say" she continued. "Time heals all wounds. Sometimes it's just that that you need".
"You are right. When you left, I remember I was… broken. I mean, if it wasn't for Buzz, I wouldn't know how to deal with it. But over time, you just get used to it. But then there are times everything comes back. You know, when Buzz and Jessie started to develop into something deeper, of course I was happy for them, but also I got a little jealous of what they had and I couldn't stop thinking about what we used to have. And it hurt. Sometimes you see something, you hear something, then a memory comes and… all the progress you thought you were making just collapses right in front of you. And that's what's happening again. I turn around and everything I see is Andy, Andy, Andy and… and I'm…"
Woody buried his face in his arms.
"And isn't that the proof that you were so lucky to have experienced such feelings?" Bo said in a calm tone.
"What do you mean?" he asked curious, raising his head.
"Well, if you didn't feel anything at all, it would mean that what you left behind didn't really mean much to you, right? And love is all about remembering, so when you feel sad it is a sign that you have something truly special in your heart that no one can take away from you".
"I… I haven't thought of it that way" Woody admitted with a genuine smile.
"What do you know! Seven years of living to the fullest really gave me some experience!" she chuckled. "Now get some sleep. You got really tired today, cowboy".
Woody then realized that indeed he was exhausted. Bo knew him too well.
They laid down.
"Careful!" he shouted. "That's too hard to use for a pillow, you'll break your head! Try this instead" he offered her a feather Barbie's coat they had found.
"Don't worry, I'm not that fragile".
"You are literally made of porcelain! I think you are being too reckless".
"And I think you are being too protective. But it's fine, I like it. Night and sweet dreams" she said and used his chest as a pillow instead.
Woody did not complain the slightest and turned off the small lamp they had picked up from the local festival.
And there in the silence with her by his side, despite his stomach still felt heavy from their conversation, he once again remembered how right it felt that he was there.
"Woody?" she said after a while, not sure if he was still awake.
"What?" he replied in a sleepy, hoarse voice.
"Since we are constantly on the go, what do you say we take a small trip to Bonnie's house? You know, see the old gang, meet Bonnie's toys you have told me about… And since we are on the neighborhood, we can pay a visit to Andy's house. Holidays are coming up so it's very likely that he will be home. And we should also check on Molly. I haven't seen her in so long, I probably won't recognize her! And there's Buster! Oh, I do hope he is well! So, what do you say?"
"It sounds like a great idea".