Andy, tanned and freckled from summer camp, racketed downstairs and knocked
the breath out of his mother with a huge bear hug.
"Thanks for the new toys, Mom!"
"That's OK, sweetie - it's good to have you back." She kissed the top of his head. "Why don't you go get yourself an ice cream from the freezer?"
"All right! Thanks Mom!" He dashed off as fast as he had come; Andy never stood still for long.
His mother frowned. 'New toys'? She'd left a new Buzz Lightyear comicbook on his bed as a welcome-home surprise, but she couldn't recall buying Andy anything else. He had too much junk already. Curious, she headed upstairs to her son's room.
Andy's bedroom was in an unnatural state of cleanliness, which wouldn't last now its occupant was home from Cowboy Camp. Everything had been gathered up and put away; clothes neatly on their hangers, the bigger toys in a wooden chest, the little things in shoeboxes. The green army men who turned up all over the place - under the rug, in the dog's bowl, in the Hoover - were at ease in their round plastic barracks. Buzz Lightyear - horrid violent toy, but boys will be boys - was standing stiffly at attention on the desk. Woody the cowboy puppet, Andy's favourite thing besides his puppy, was lying on the pillow, next to...
"Jessie? Cowgirl Jessie?" Andy's mom scooped up the red-hatted girl doll and looked at her unbelievingly. "And your horse too - whatever was his name?"
She knelt on the floor and made the smiling bronco clop up and down Andy's duvet. "Of course, you're Bullseye! How could I forget faithful Bullseye?"
Cross-legged on the floor, Jessie and Bullseye in her lap, Andy's mom remembered things that had happened when she was far younger than her son was now. She saw herself at four, sitting on her father's lap while he bounced her gently, giving her a horse ride. She was excited because her favourite show was on TV. Woody's Roundup!
She hummed the theme tune, remembering every word. She had sung along every Sunday tea-time until the show got cancelled when she was seven. One Sunday she had been ill in bed, and her dad had carried her downstairs wrapped in a blanket so she wouldn't miss seeing Woody and his friends defeat the evil prospector.
Her fifth birthday had been on a Sunday. After jelly, ice cream and cake, her mother said "I think you should open this present before you go watch TV." The brightly-wrapped package was about the size of a shoebox. New sneakers? the little girl wondered, shaking the parcel curiously.
"Hurry up, you'll miss Roundup!" her dad said, winking at her mom. She needed no more encouragement and ripped off the paper to reveal a cardboard box filled with tissue paper. Inside...
"It's Jessie!" she shrieked, pulling the doll out of the box and running to hug her parents. Her dad laughed.
"Glad you like her, pardner. How about a ride into the lounge?" So, riding triumphantly on her dad's shoulders, she took Jessie to watch herself on TV.
An only child who lived out in the country, Andy's mom had few friends. But with Jessie by her side she was never lonely. Together they explored the woods and fields, discovering goldmines, chasing Injuns and rescuing each other from fearful danger. Sometimes she would be Bullseye, carrying Jessie away from evil Prospector Pete. Sometimes she was Woody rounding up the bad guys. But Jessie was always herself.
When high school started Jessie was left on her own more often. But she knew she was still the favourite toy, because she lay on a pink pillow on her pardner's bed and heard all her secrets and sorrows. She was hidden away when friends came to tea, but always brought back out as soon as they were gone.
Things changed when Andy's mom went away to college. She spent days in her room gathering old clothes, books and toys - her very own roundup. As she took a last look round she discovered Jessie under the bed, where she had slipped in the confusion and lain neglected. She looked at her for a long time, then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Jessie. Mom and Dad want my old room for guests now. They don't have room to store all my junk." A hug, a kiss, and Jessie was placed on top of a heap of outgrown jeans and skirts. The doll stared at the roof of the car as she was driven to the Goodwill depot, but when they reached journey's end her head flopped to the side to give her a last glimpse of her pardner as she walked away and left her.
Years went by and Woody's Roundup was all but forgotten in the busy life of a student, graduate, wife, mother. Her job, her marriage, Andy and baby Molly were followed by divorce and another job. She didn't think of the hokey '50s show she had loved so much until one day when she was pushing Andy to the shops in his buggy.
"Dolly!" the little boy cried suddenly, straining against the straps and reaching for something in a store window. She bent down to see what had caught his eye and found herself looking into the pleasant face of an old friend - Cowboy Woody.
On a whim she wheeled Andy into the junk shop and took Woody from his place in the window. Her son still gazed adoringly at him. She felt round the back of the puppet for the string, which was in the same place as Jessie's had been. The rasp and slight resistance as she pulled was a sensation she knew well.
"Yeehaw! There's a snake in my boot!" intoned Woody gravely, sitting in her hand. Andy giggled delightedly, and his mother laughed too. She checked the price tag; ten dollars seemed a lot for a second-hand toy, but the divorce had been tough on Andy and she kept wanting to treat him with gifts. Besides, Woody was so much more appealing than the rubbishy plastic space toys you saw nowadays, all flashing lights and horrible-looking weapons. He came home with them, and had barely left Andy's side since.
Indeed, Andy had become as obsessed with cowboys as his mother had been growing up. She made him a ten-gallon hat and showed him how to twirl a clothesline lasso. They watched old Westerns together, Woody riding on Andy's knee as he bounced excitedly. The one show that never seemed to get repeated was Roundup, though she shamelessly borrowed the plots she could remember for Andy's bedtime stories. If only she had kept her old Jessie doll - Andy would have loved her.
And now here she was. At least, here a Jessie doll was. It was too much to expect that this was the one she had given away all those years ago. But then the fact that she was here at all was incredible, inexplicable. And with Bullseye too, a toy she had never had or even seen. Would it be all that more unlikely if...? Slowly, wonderingly, Andy's mom lifted Jessie's right foot - the place where Andy had always marked his favourite toys with his name.
The writing was faded, but still clearly legible - much neater than Andy's had been at that age. 'EMILY', it read. Andy's mom gave a gasp. "You're my Cowgirl Jessie! Remember our adventures? Keeping Stinky Pete out of the copse, and hiding from Indians in the shrubbery?" She hugged the doll close. "I don't know how on earth you got here, but I'm sure glad to see you again."
As Emily replaced Jessie on Andy's pillow, she almost thought she heard a broad Texan voice say "My, my, pardner, how you've grown!"