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Ruby Rafter had never been one for nostalgia, but she couldn't help the heavy feeling settling in her chest, as she glanced around the room that had always been 'the baby's'. A lot about it had changed, since she first moved in- the walls had gone from a pale pink with jungle animals for a trim to a darker pink with white trim, and had long been covered with posters, children's paintings and photographs, the white framed mirror covered in frangipani stickers. The bed, once with a pink and purple flowered blanket covering her sheets, now held a tie-dyed psychedelic blanket in every colour of the rainbow.
Her room had never been the cleanest in the house- Rachel's was, to her parents' surprise- but Rachel had left the house many years earlier, when Ruby was barely two.
She was long since the only child in the Rafter house, and yet the time had come for her to move out. At eighteen and a high school graduate, she too was joining her much older brothers and sister and leaving the nest.
Fun loving Ben had moved only next door, where he had stayed. Determined Nathan had moved into the city, only to return a year later- moving next door to join Ben when she was born. Dreamy Rachel had moved out when she was eighteen, returning home from ages twenty five to twenty seven, right before Ruby's second birthday.
But it didn't mean she was raised as an only child- not a day had passed where she hadn't seen Ben or Nathan hanging over the fence, telling her jokes or asking how her day was. Rachel made sure she visited at least three times a week, ringing to check up on her baby sister.
Now the house really would be empty- in a few moments, Ruby Rafter would be departing her childhood home, heading into the big bad world.
The corners of her lips turned up, as she saw the framed photo sitting beside the television. Three girls, completely different in looks, with the same big blue eyes, able to get them anything they wanted. Honey blonde with long, loose waves hanging over her shoulders, dark brown with pigtails covering the logo on her shirt, pale blonde hair tied into a loose bun. There was a happy, conspirational smile shared by the three girls, a photograph that never failed to make Ruby smile.
The three girls had been as thick as thieves for as long as she could remember- brunette Brylie Rafter, daughter of her brother Ben, pale blonde Nicola Barton, her big sister Rachel's little girl. While she had a selection of nephews, she only had two nieces, and they were the best of friends.
Picking up the photo and sliding it into her shoulder bag, she glanced around the room once more.
There was a selection of photos, plastered on the walls, but one had already been taken down and packed into her suitcase. Taken a year ago at Christmas time, her three grandparents, parents, two cousins, older siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews and herself had gathered together, wearing bright red Santa hats, laughing and joking.
She knew that there was little chance to have her whole family there, ready to say goodbye to her as she headed into country for university. They had long since scattered into their own busy lives, after a Christmas gathering. Her Poppy Tom and cousins Coby and Bree were back in Coolong, with the families next door taking a well-deserved holiday on the Gold Coast. Jake and Rachel, after much contemplation, had flown the week before, New Zealand bound for three weeks. Their advice when they were there had been great, but she would have done anything to give them one last hug, as she put her final bag into her car.
"Ruby, sweetheart, how's the packing coming?" her mother called from the other end of the house.
"I'm nearly ready!" she called back, her stomach becoming more and more frantic as she searched the room.
Somewhere in the room was the perfect reminder of her parents, her brothers and sister, her childhood and the bedroom she had called hers since babydom. Sure, she could take photos of them (and she had plenty in her suitcase) but she needed something more tangible, to hold tight when she was homesick. She yanked open a drawer, her stomach curling itself into knots as she heard her father's footsteps.
"Ruby, are you nearly ready? You've got to hit the road soon", he said gently.
"Five more minutes?" she said pleadingly, her head in the wardrobe.
Her father's eyes crinkled at the corners. "it's not as if you'll never be back", he said teasingly.'
"I know", she mumbled, grabbing a box hastily marked 'toys'.
"Can I give you a hand?"
"I've got everything", she assured him, removing the lid and knowing instantly her quest was over. The rag doll lying on top of an assortment of dolls' clothes and plastic blocks and animals was her perfect memento of her childhood.
Ruby smiled at the memories the doll conjured- it was the first thing she saw when she had woken up in the morning, the last thing she had seen before she went to bed at night. It was dragged around with her, day in and day out, buckled into its own seat in her mother's car, the doll requiring its own bag on their annual family holiday. The rag doll had been a present for her first birthday- along with a yellow cement mixer- and the two had remained her favourite toys.
Emerging from the cupboard with the doll clutched tightly in her hands, she watched her father's face smile as recognition settled over his features. Wrapping his arms around his youngest daughter, he dropped a kiss to the top of her head.
"I'm ready, Daddy", she whispered.
"You have everything?"
Holding her rag doll tight, she glanced around her bedroom. "I do now".