Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. William Arthur Ward

She'd messed up big with Buzz this time. Jessie was sure of it. Just when she was trying to sort through things, this hedgehog comes up to her with a rather strange request. It had only been 10 minutes since he had approached her. As she mulled it over, Jessie searched Mr. Pricklepants's face for any hint of his motivation. His expression remained stoic and unreadable. Taken at face value, his request didn't seem so bad. How hard could it be? Maybe this was a chance to get her mind off Buzz and..."him."

"Have you come to a decision?" he asked finally.

Jessie opened her mouth to answer, but she shut it just as quickly.

"I assure you that I understand your hesitancy, Jessie. You have had such a difficult time. That is all the more reason I want you to consider my request. We want to understand your plight. We want to help you. Will you help us?"

"Um, I-" As Jessie struggled to find the words, a familiar voice came from behind.


"Buzz!" An open-mouthed grin spread across her face as she turned to face him.

He walked up to her with his hands behind his back and a stiffer than usual posture.

"I have to say that you have a beautiful yarn full of hair." Buzz scratched his head and looked down. "Or was it a hair full of yarn?" He mumbled.

"Anyway," he straightened himself back up, "my name is Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. I come in peace. I am sworn to protect the galaxy from the evil Emperor Zurg."

How Buzz could deliver those lines and still manage to keep a straight face, she'll never know.

Mr. Pricklepants extended his hand to Buzz.

"How delightful! My name is Mr. Pricklepants. What brings you here, Space Ranger?"

Buzz bent down long enough to shake the hedgehog's hand. After which, he stood back up at attention.

"The life of a space ranger is a lonely job, Prickly Citizen. I had a lovely young woman, but I seem to have lost her."

"Oh, dear me!" Mr. Pricklepants clasped his hands. "What ever happened to her?"

"I'm not sure, really." Buzz closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "She was fearless, brave, and had such a passion for life."

"She's not like that anymore?" Jessie asked timidly. She put her hands behind her back to stop that habit of stroking her braid.

Buzz opened his eyes. For a moment he seemed hurt, but that expression was gone quickly. He reverted back into his space ranger persona standing erect with hands behind his back.

"She's still like that. She just doesn't know it. I will search the farthest reaches of the galaxy and storm fortress of Zurg himself to get her back!"

"Buzz, why are you acting like this?" Exasperated, Jessie crossed her arms and started tapping her foot. "Are you trying to get back at me?"

"Revenge?" He asked innocently and looking straight ahead. "Revenge is not an idea we promote on my planet."

"But we're not on your planet," she countered.

"Indeed, Fine Lady! Be that as it may, I must complete my search and rescue mission. Farewell." He held up that Star Trek Vulcan hand sign.

Mr. Pricklepants saluted. "Godspeed, Man!"

Buzz saluted back then did an about face in a military-styled fashion. Jessie's eyes never left him as he exited the room. Maybe she hadn't messed up so badly after all. There was still a chance for them. There was also still the matter of Mr. Pricklepants's request. She knelt down so that they were face to face.

"Yanno, I must be crazy for doing this," she said.

The hedgehog took that as a yes.

"Ah! It will be a wonder to behold!" he exclaimed.

"Gee, I dunno." Jessie was doing that braid-stroking thing again.

He reached out and took her hands in his.

"Listen to me, Jessie. You broke the cycle of misery, but you still need to forgive."

"I forgave 'him,'" she argued.

"I know. I was not referring to 'him.' I am talking about forgiving yourself."

Jessie's eyes widened. Mr. Pricklepants paused from a moment to let that sink in.

"This would mean so much to me," he continued. "However, it must mean more to you. Do this for yourself, not for me or even for Buzz. You are a most remarkable toy! The bond between you and your friends is unlike anything I have ever witnessed."

Jessie smiled. She thought about Buzz. What kind of game was he playing and how is Mr. Pricklepants mixed up in all of this? Jessie didn't know what was going on, but she decided to play this game.

"Okay, sure! Why the heck not? Sounds like fun."

"That's the spirit, Jessie!"

"Yeeehaaaaw! Alright, I'll do it!"

As Jessie's excitement rose, Mr. Pricklepants matched her excitement.

"Splendid! I promise you won't regret it! I will go and make the preparations."

The hedgehog whistled as he walked away. Jessie couldn't help but notice that it was the kind of whistling people do when they are clearly guilty of something but are making a lame attempt to seem innocent.

Jessie thought about what she had just agreed to do. All Mr. Pricklepants wanted was for Jessie to do a seminar about preparing to go from one owner to the next. It was a strange thing to ask coming from Mr. Pricklepants. That sounded more like something Woody would have her do. Was Woody involved in this? He had to be, no doubt about it. Oh, well. How hard could this be?

Meanwhile, outside the door...

"Way to go, Pricklepants! You too, Buzz. Okay, Guys, it's time for stage 3." Woody lifted an eyebrow when he saw Mr. Pricklepants moping around. He knelt down and placed a hand on the hedgehog's shoulder.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"I do feel simply awful for deceiving Jessie like this."

"Having second thoughts? I understand." Woody nodded sympathetically.

"Don't get me wrong!" He held up his hands in his defense. "I am at your discretion, Woody, I will do as we agreed. I just pray that we do not crush Jessie's spirit by doing this."

Woody, Buzz, and Mr. Pricklepants remained silent for a moment, each lost in his own thoughts. Buzz thought back to the time when Andy had put him in that trash bag. Like the other toys with him, he thought that Andy meant to throw him away. He hid it well, but Buzz was devastated. At least he wasn't alone. Poor Jessie had to endure that all by herself and spend years in isolation. Had Woody never told him about her, he never would have guessed that she went through what she went through. She was so vibrant and had so much spirit. Buzz was convinced that nothing could crush her spirit. He smiled.

"I believe in her!" He said. "She'll get through this just fine. It's what she does. It's who she is. I'll take it from here. Now, move out!"

Mr. Pricklepants got down on all fours and darted to Bonnie's room leaving Woody in the dust. Wow, look at those stubby legs go! When they were in the room, Buzz reentered the home office. Jessie was getting ready to walk out of the room.

"Buzz? What's going on?"

"Everything's under control, Ma'am. I have been ordered to escort you to your seminar."

He offered her his right arm. Jessie looked at him with skepticism. Then, she slid her arm in his. They slowly walked arm in arm down the hallway to Bonnie's room. Neither of them spoke. When they came up to the door, Buzz walked over to the wall. He sat down against the wall and pulled Jessie into his lap.

"Space Ranger, I've been thinking a lot about that special someone you lost. Ya think you'll ever find her?"

Buzz reached up and caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I'll have her back soon."

Jessie pressed his hand against her face and closed her eyes.

"I'm so sorry, Buzz," she said.

When Jessie opened her eyes, green eyes locked onto blue ones. Buzz reached up behind her head and brought her down for a kiss. When they heard the sound of someone clearing his throat, they didn't jump or act embarrassed. They were way past that point in their relationship.

"Sorry for interrupting, Jess," said Woody. Normally, when Woody caught them like this, he would be amused. Instead, he looked kind of sad.

"Your public awaits," said Mr. Pricklepants. "Everyone has assembled and I have made a make-shift stage for you."

Stage? Wasn't this supposed to be just a seminar? Jessie suddenly felt like she had just stirred up a hornets' nest. Still, she nodded. Buzz and Jessie stood up and brushed themselves off.

"All righty then, Gang, here I go!"

As Jessie headed for the stage, the three toys looked at each other. Mr. Pricklepants took a deep breath.

"Buzz, Pricklepants, we can still stop this now if you want."

"That's a negative, Woody! I told you she'll be fine. Jessie can take anything we throw at her." Buzz turned to Mr. Pricklepants. "Thank you for all you've done, Friend."

The little hedgehog's face lit up.

"No matter what happens, I can say that I have never been more proud to be called your friend. Now please, take your seats."

As Buzz and Woody sat down, Jessie already had her audience eating out of her hand. She warmed them up with some of her rope techniques and yodeling. When everyone was thoroughly entertained, she launched into the heavy stuff.

"Howdy, ya'll! I'm here to talk about some'em every good toy dreads, being separated from your owners. I don't think that humans'll ever realize how much we become attached to 'em or how much we love 'em. They don't know the pain we feel when we get separated from 'em."

"Then, why don't you tell us about this pain?" Mr. Pricklepants asked.

Jessie grew wide-eyed at the question. She wasn't expecting a Q&A this early on. She decided to answer anyway.

"I...don't know how to describe it."

"Allow me to me help you!"

Jessie stood dumbfounded as Mr. Pricklepants stood up and walked onto the stage with her. Jessie had turned away from her audience, her full attention now on the hedgehog. He stood directly in front of her and crossed his arms.

"The way I understand it, Jessie, you did not believe Woody when he told you that Andy never meant to throw you away. Is that true?"

Jessie paused and looked down in shame. When she didn't answer, the hedgehog continued.

"Your Emily abandoned you! You were so afraid that Andy had done the same, you couldn't see the truth of the situation. So, you abandoned him before he had the chance to abandon you! What you did next was unforgivable!"

"WHAT?" Jessie's mouth dropped open. "What in tarnation are you talkin' about?"

"I am referring to "his" daycare. You went there, yes? You led your family to their destruction! You brought misery on their heads! You brought ruin to them all!"

Throughout his verbal onslaught, Mr. Pricklepants pointed an accusing finger at Jessie. She could only stand there shaking her head.

"No, you prickly little critter! I love my family! I wanted to protect them not imprison them! What's wrong with that?" she pleaded.

"What's wrong? Woody was gone. The Buzz you knew was gone. Your freedom was gone. You got exactly what you thought you wanted, but you lost everything you knew you had!

"You are no better than 'he' is. I may even be so bold as to say that you are far far worse!"

"N-no! That's not who I am!" Jessie stomped her foot and balled up her hands into fists.

"I am befuddled, Jessie. Pray tell, who are you?" Mr. Pricklepants rubbed his chin as if trying to figure out the answer.

"I-I...why are you doing this? What does it matter now? It's all over! Yes, I m-made a mistake, but it's all over! We're here now safe and sound. We have a new owner. W-we're still together as a family!"

"If that's the case, then why do you keep tormenting yourself? Why do you punish yourself every time you see that truck? Why, Jessie? Even after 'he' has been subdued, 'he' is still holding you captive. You are still trapped in "his" cage. You are still trapped in storage."

At the word "storage," Jessie opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She dropped to her knees and started hyperventilating. She had one hand on her chest, while she used the other hand to keep herself from falling forward.

"I-I, Emily!"

"Hey, this is really good!" Rex shouted.

"Shhhh!" Trixie nudged him.

Rex's outburst caught Jessie's attention. Since Mr. Pricklepants's interrogation, Jessie had forgotten about her audience. She looked at at her friends. They were wide-eyed and leaning forward in anticipation, all except one. Buzz looked calm and relaxed. His expression melted her heart. He looked at her as any lovestruck toy would. His tender expression told her that standing before him, was the young woman he had fallen for. In the best way he knew how, he wanted to show her his love for her, his pride in her, and his faith in her. The way he looked at her made her feel loved and cherished.

Once again, their eyes locked on to each other. He narrowed his eyes to convey another message.

Get up, Jessie! Get up now! Stand your ground!

With a look of understanding she picked herself up and forced herself to breath normally. She towered above Mr. Pricklepants.

"Let me tell you something, you sneaky little varmint!" Jessie pushed an index finger into the hedgehog's forehead. "You're right about one thing! That stuffed bear and I are alike in several ways. We both felt the pain of abandonment. We both wanted a family. There is a difference. Lotso couldn't let go of his hurt. Lotso couldn't love. Lotso couldn't forgive. Up until now, neither could I. I'm ready to let go. I'm ready to forgive myself. That's why I can now say 'his' name without regret or hurt."

The moment she said that, she felt a change. A heaviness left her. She felt at peace. Jessie closed her eyes to relish the feeling she hadn't really felt since Emily left her behind. When she opened her eyes, she realized that she was now alone on stage. Mr. Pricklepants was back in the audience. That little critter can really move!

"In a strange way, Lotso did us all a favor." Jessie paused for a moment. "Lotso," she repeated his name. She found it liberating that she can say his name so easily.

"He left us to die. When we faced death, we understood what was really important. Woody gave up his Andy to keep us, the family, together. We're here with Bonnie now. Buzz and I grew closer together. Most importantly, I have another chance to make a child happy. Lotso made his decision. For that, I forgive him."

Jessie looked at Mr. Pricklepants who winked at her. She smiled and continued.

"No toy should ever have to go through what I went through, but I'm stronger because of it. Oh, Emily, wherever you are, thank you for everything. I love you. I love you. I love you."

Jessie took off her hat and gave a dramatic bow. She stayed like that for a moment. Her eyes flung open when no one so much as clapped. Panicked, she looked up. Everyone's mouths and eyes were wide open. Jessie chewed on her lower lip.

Buzz stood and clapped in a very slow cadence. Woody soon followed and clapped at a similar tempo. They were joined by the Potato Heads, then the rest of the toys. The tempo of the claps increased as they started cheering and whistling. As the applause grew louder than what one would expect from such a small group, Jessie stood up tall. She placed her hat back on her head with the same boldness and confidence that she's known for. She then bowed again and again.

"BRAVO!" Pricklepants cried out.

When the applause subsided, Mr. Pricklepants made the announcement.

"Everyone, please join us in the computer room for the reception. Maybe Jessie and Buzz will grace us with another dance."

While the others filed out of the room, Jessie could hear them saying, "Wow, what a sweet ending! I cried! You too? Yeah, me too!"

Jessie was then left alone with her 3 conspirators. Buzz, Mr. Pricklepants, and Woody had the biggest grins on their faces and were looking rather pleased with themselves. Their plan was a success!

Jessie had planned to give them an earful, but somehow it just didn't matter anymore. She realized that each of them loved her in his own unique way. Woody offered Jessie his friendship. Mr. Pricklepants offered Jessie his compassion. Buzz offered Jessie his love.

Woody approached her first. He hugged her and then kissed her on the forehead.

"It's great to have my favorite deputy back! See ya at the reception, Jess." He tipped his hat and walked out of the room.

Next, was Mr. Pricklepants.

"Jessie, I can unabashedly say that I am terrified of Bonnie growing up and not needing me anymore. I agreed to this because I greatly admire you. You have such a vitality for life despite what you've been through. Thank you for giving me strength. I was afraid that we might crush your spirit, but there's a toy that believes in you with all his parts."

He took her hand in his and led her to Buzz.

"Space Ranger, my dear fellow, I believe that I have found that lovely young woman you have been searching for. Is this she?"

Buzz never broke eye contact with Jessie.

"Yes, my good citizen, this is 'she.'" He reached out and took her hand.

"You are a lucky toy to have her. Try not to lose her again."

"Roger that, Mr. Pricklepants," said Buzz still without breaking eye contact from Jessie.

"I shall take my leave now. Let us reconvene at your reception shall we?" He bowed courteously and walked out of the room.

"I'm sorry for pushing you away, Buzz."

"That was your decision, Cowgirl, but I forgive you." He winked.

His arm went under her knees and scooped her up.

"Star Command, the threat as been neutralized! We are now en route to the reception area, over!"

"Oh, Buzz." She buried her face in the crook of his neck.

Buzz took his time carrying her down the hallway. When they entered the room, he shouted, "The guest of honor has arrived!"

The toys all cheered and whistled. Jessie suddenly grew bashful. There were building blocks all over the place that said, "Welcome Back."

Buzz set her down on her feet, but still held on to her upper body. She gasped as she realized that Buzz was going to kiss her right there in front of everyone. As they leaned into each other, the other toys erupted into another round of ruckus. When their lips met, the world around them faded.

7 Days later...

Jessie sat between Buzz's knees as he picked paint chips out of her hair. Then, they heard the sound of that truck. When the truck pulled up in front of Bonnie's house, Jessie sighed softly and snuggled into Buzz's chest.

"You okay, Jessie?"

"Of course I am! If you don't get back to getting that paint out of my hair, I'll have you hog-tied and branded, Space Ranger!"

"Yes, Ma'am!" He chuckled.

Even as he said that, Buzz wrapped his arms around her waist and said softly, "Welcome back, Jessie. Welcome back!"

The End

We never know how high we are

Till we are asked to rise

And then if we are true to plan

Our statures touch the skies – Emily Dickinson


Thank you for all the lovely reviews, especially Legacy Now for your "tough love." This is virtgrad the virtual graduate saying, "Peace out!"