I began running full-speed toward my sister, overjoyed with the thought of her actually being here.

My sister stepped out the lanai door, and my eyes were instantly drawn to her fuzzy slippers. Wait, what? Big sis would never, ever, in a million years wear shoes with bows on them.

Wait a second… My eyes trailed up her legs and to her face.

That was definitely not my sister.

I stopped in my tracks, feeling devastated. All of my hopes had soared for nothing.

“Taryn?” she asked in curiosity. “I thought I heard something outside; what are you doing out here?”

I didn’t know what to say. Jasmine was shivering, her legs trembling from the cold but determined to find out what I was doing outside the house in the middle of the night – or early morning. I swallowed uncomfortably, knowing I had better tell the truth.

“I was running away,” I croaked.

Jasmine didn’t look hurt or even confused, like I thought she would; she looked understanding and curious all at the same time.

I spoke up quickly. “I know you probably won’t understand; but I had to. This – this isn’t my home,” I sighed. “I don’t belong here. I need to go back to the American Girl Doll Orphanage.”

“Oh, Taryn,” Jasmine was compassionate and caring. “Please don’t feel that way. You do belong here.”

I shook my head. “You don’t understand…”

“I do,” Jasmine nodded. “When I first came, I didn’t like it here either. I was adopted from an American Girl Doll Orphanage, too.”

I stared at her, wondering whether she was going to tell me a personal story or continue to ask my why I wanted to run away. She went with the first route.

“I had to develop thick skin, I guess. On my first day there, pretty much the entire orphanage made it their personal mission to make me miserable.”

“What?” I spluttered. “Why? Why you? You’re so nice!”

“Thanks,” she laughed at the unexpected compliment. Then her smile faded. “I don’t know… Maybe because I had replaced McKenna. Either way, the other “Saige” dolls and I who arrived weren’t treated very nicely – at all. It got worse as time grew on, because the other Saige dolls were being adopted until I was the only one left at that particular orphanage. Everyone singled me out and bullied me, and I didn’t even do anything to them!”

I could see tears glisten in Jasmine’s eyes as she looked away. “I didn’t think I could ever forget the hurtful words they had said to me.”

“You didn’t tell the adults?” I wondered. True, telling adults wouldn’t have been my first option either, but it would’ve been pretty necessary in Jasmine’s case.

“Oh, no, how could I? I was sure the bullying would’ve gotten worse. I just kept on being miserable until the first of June. I decided to develop thick skin and give everyone everyone else a taste of their own medicine. I began to say mean and hurtful things back to them. I convinced myself that sticks and stones could break my bones, but words would never hurt me anymore. After a while, a few others began to join me, and pretty soon the entire orphanage was divided between my side and the main bully’s side. I thought being mean back would help me feel better, but it didn’t. Either way, I kept on feeling more and more miserable until finally, finally – I was adopted by Madison. But all that bullying does something to you, I guess. I came here acting just like the other dolls at the orphanage; mean and rude and saying hurtful things. I don’t even know why.”

I could never imagine Jasmine as mean. She was too nice! Sure, she could be classified as a super girly-girl fashionista, I guess, but that didn’t make her mean. You could say she had character flaws in some areas, but who doesn’t? Either way, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that Jasmine could ever be unkind and rude.

I didn’t say anything as Jasmine continued, “Emelie was adopted from a different orphanage than I was, but when we met, I was mean to her, too. I was mean to everybody. I didn’t want to be here, either, Taryn. And – I’ve never told anyone this, but-“

I held on breathlessly to her next words.

“I planned on running away, too. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t want to feel how it felt to be bullied again and have everyone else team up against you – what if they were nice one moment and then bullies the next? Bullying was all I knew, so I kept on being mean and rude and planning on running away as soon as I could.”

Jasmine smiled, still staring off into the distance as the biting wind continued to whip at her legs. “But as time went on, I began to see that everyone here carried something I didn’t; something real, not just an emotion. It was joy, true joy, which I hadn’t felt… ever. I decided to stick around and find out what it was.”

“Did you ever find it?” I asked. “True joy, I mean?”

“Yes!” Her eyes sparkled against the freezing cold. “On Christmas Eve, 2013, after a crazy event of miracles and God coming through for us all when it looked like all hope was lost – I decided to accept Jesus into my heart. He’s my True Joy, and He healed my heart that was broken by the bullying at the orphanage. I don’t have to act that way anymore; Jesus gave me new life.”

I smiled at her. She did seem indescribably happy for almost no reason.

“Now, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere but here,” Jasmine finished. “I would never want to run away in a million years. I’m loved here; I have family here. All my friends loved me no matter how mean I was to them and showed me how to live a wonderful life full of joy no matter what the circumstances are, because we have Jesus.”

She implored my hazel eyes. “Please don’t run away, Taryn. We all love you here. No matter what you’ve been through, we will be your family.”

“It’s – it’s not that,” I tried to explain. “My orphanage doesn’t have lots of mean girls or bullying. It’s not that I don’t like you guys, because you are all really nice; it’s just…”

I broke my gaze away. “This isn’t my home.”

I could feel Jasmine gazing at me with her piercing blue eyes full of care and solicitude. “May I ask why?” she urged gently.

“I – I have a sister,” I blurted. There. I said it. “She’s back at the orphanage.”

“Ohhh!” Jasmine nodded slowly as if a mystery had been discovered. “Ohh, that makes sense!” Then her voice gave way to sincere compassion. “Taryn, I am so sorry that you were separated from your sister. I can’t even imagine how that must feel.”

That’s right. She couldn’t. No on here could. Being torn away from my big sister was the deepest hurt I had ever experienced in my entire life.

Jasmine wasn’t done. “I know you must be feeling really sad and confused. But everyone here loves you and wants to be your family. Please don’t run away.”

Jasmine pulled me into a warm hug. “Please.”

I hugged her back, wanting to cry but telling myself that was silly. “Okay,” I murmured, even though my heart was breaking. I would never see my sister again.

“Come on,” Jasmine beckoned after a while. “Let’s get inside. I’m freezing!”

I followed her in, still feeling like I needed to let loose another round of sobs but holding them in anyway. Life was going to go on whether I felt like it or not. I had to move on.

Even if that meant saying goodbye to big sis forever.

*

The next morning, things were pretty calm. Jasmine was maintaining her splits while Coconut was having fun annoying her and getting in the way.

Emelie was absorbed in reading a good book to her doll, Emma.

Cécile, whom I quickly realized was the most responsible and mother-like of the bunch, was straightening up the room.

Josefina was hardworking and sweet, and she was helping Cécile spiffy up by hanging clean clothes up on hangers.

Chloe and Ellie, the two adventurers, were taking a selfie to document the first day of what they had been calling “Mission: X”… whatever that was.

Fun-loving and goofy Molly, however, spotted her chance for a photobomb.

“Hehehe!”

“Ugh, real mature, Molly!” Ellie snapped after she looked over the picture. Molly just stuck her tongue out and made a face while Chloe bursted into giggles.

Me? I was desperately trying to get hold of the American Girl Doll Orphanage.

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?!” It was all I could do to keep from screaming. For the fourth time in a row I had dialed a number related to the AGD Orphanage but had been wrong.

“Please, do you have any idea what the number could be? I’ve done tons of research and this is the fourth number I’ve tried…”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t help you,” the snappy voice on the other end cut me short.

“You don’t know how important this is to me,” I whispered helplessly.

“I’m sorry,” the voice grew softer. “I just can’t help you.”

“Thanks anyway,” I mumbled, pressing the end button.

When I looked up, Cécile was scolding Chloe and Ellie. “You guys seriously haven’t made your beds yet? Don’t even think of going off to play with them looking like a rat’s nest. And Molly, come get your stuff off this desk and put it where it goes.”

“Sorry!” Chloe squealed, who hated getting in trouble or disappointing people. She scurried up her bunk bed to obey Cécile.

Ellie, on the other hand, was not so easily swayed. She was a strong fighter who stood her ground, I observed. “And since when were you in charge?” She demanded defiantly. (Nope, that’s not a misspelling of definitely – it’s defiantly. The adverb derivative of defiant. 😉 )

Cécile rolled her eyes. “We’ve been over this. ‘Cause I’m the oldest.”

“That doesn’t mean a thing. Besides, it’s a holiday. No school, no responsibilities… I’m not making my bed if I’m on holiday.”

“Ellie Mae, if I go get Madison I can guarantee you that she’s going to make you go make your bed,” Cécile told her as Molly grabbed her things off the desk.

“I’m done!” Chloe sang as she scuttled down her ladder. “Mission: X can’t wait any longer! Let’s go!”

Ellie shot Cécile a smirk before grabbing Chloe’s hand and leading her outside. “Wait for me!” Molly cried, dashing after them.

“Hey!” Cécile squeaked. “You guys don’t even have your coats on!”

But the three were already running out the door. “Oh, Ellie Mae,” Cécile sighed, relapsing into silence. She turned to me and smiled. “Sometimes I wonder how I’m even related to that girl,” she laughed. “Then I remember that I’m not.”

“Wait – you’re not?” I wondered, quite confused. “I thought you guys were all sisters.”

Cécile shook her head, chuckling. “Oh no, not at all! Only Molly and Josefina are my adopted sisters. Everyone else are my roommates – we just live together, but we’re not sisters.” Then she smiled. “But we all love each other, despite some people’s craziness. We’re all family.”

I felt loads better. I didn’t have to give up my sister after all! I wasn’t getting seven other sisters. I was just getting a new home… without big sis. Despite my sorrow about leaving my sister, it was if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

“Oh – did you think we were all your sisters?” Cécile asked sweetly.

I nodded, feeling pretty silly.

“Haha, that’s okay,” Cécile smiled. “Maybe one day Madison will make us all sisters, but even if she doesn’t, we’re all family. Welcome to the family, Taryn.”

I looked down at the phone in my hand. I hadn’t met Madison yet – she seemed like a pretty busy person. Was she nice? If she had adopted so many dolls like us from the orphanage… maybe one more couldn’t hurt. Would she consider – no, no, the idea was crazy. Never mind.

All of the sudden, we heard the front door slam with cries of “Mission abort!” and footsteps racing to safety inside. Cécile turned toward the noise in annoyance.

I placed my phone down. It was time to take a break from trying to get in touch with big sis. I looked up at the three out-of-breath, panic-stricken dolls bursting through the doorway.

Molly was the first to crash on the floor, huffing and puffing.

Ellie and Chloe leaned heavily against a wall, gasping for air and doubling over with exhaustion.

 “That was lucky,” Ellie panted breathlessly. “Are you okay, Agent Z?”

“This is bad,” Chloe wheezed back in hopelessness. “Really, really bad. It’s all my fault.”

“We’re all at fault, Agent Z,” Ellie placed her hand on Chloe’s shoulder. “That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”

“I’ve jeopardized the entire mission,” Chloe shook her head miserably, still breathing hard.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Ellie reassured. “I say we travel by shadow. We cannot back down now.”

Chloe looked up in horror. “Are you insane?! It’s too dangerous to go back!”

Ellie’s eyes were fierce. “It’s too important to leave behind.”

“Um, English, please?” Cécile asked with and eyeroll. “Are you guys playing a game?”

Just then, the dolly doorbell rang, and all three heads turned to look. “That’s no game,” Ellie answered in terror. “That’s her!”

“Who?” I questioned.

“The random person walking up to our door,” Chloe explained. “It could be anyone. An assassin, a spy, the boss of an evil headquarters. We’ve been spying on her. Worst of all, I dropped our important notebook of clues on the ground and in trying to grab it, I was spotted. Whoever she is knows we’re here and has access to our notebook! Mission X is in jeopardy!” She cried.

Just then, Coconut decided to drive Jasmine insane. “GET HER OFF OF ME!” Jasmine screamed, not having any particular liking toward Coconut.

Cécile rushed to help Jasmine while the dolly doorbell rang a second time.

“I’ll get it,” I offered, seeing as she was busy with Coconut, and Ellie, Chloe, and Molly were afraid of whoever was at the door.

I hurried down the hall. “Coming!” I called to the doll who stood outside.

I began to open the door…

… Never dreaming that I would recognize the doll who stood on the other side.

I swung the door open, and we both gasped.

“Taryn? Is that you?”


… in I’ll Be Home for Christmas if Only in My Dreams, Part 5 – Finale!

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