September 21, 2009 12:00 PM

Some part of Tina Dugard thought it might be a hoax. But then, when she hurried to a secret location on Aug. 27, her niece Jaycee saw her and called out, “Auntie Tina!” “She had the same smile I remember from 18 years ago,” Tina Dugard, 42, tells PEOPLE. “We rushed to each other and hugged. Well, it was more like clamped.”

It’s been a joyous reunion for Jaycee Dugard and her family in the days since she was found on Aug. 26. Kidnapped in 1991 and discovered with her alleged abductor, Phillip Garrido, 58, Jaycee and her daughters, Starlit, 15, and Angel, 11—both apparently fathered by Garrido—spent their first days of freedom in an undisclosed location in Northern California with Jaycee’s mother, Terry Probyn, 50, her sister Shayna, 19, and her aunt. “We were all just getting to know each other again,” says Tina, an elementary school teacher. “Jaycee and I just sat around, and she talked about her favorite foods and things we wanted to do. And one day she said, ‘I’m so happy. I feel so happy.'”

Police have moved Garrido and his wife, Nancy, 54, to a jail in El Dorado County, Calif., where Jaycee lived when she was taken and where the Garridos’ trial on charges of rape and kidnapping may be held. (Both have pleaded not guilty.) But Jaycee’s family is focused on the positive side of her story. Tina marvels at how much she taught her daughters: One of them pointed out constellations; the other knew a certain plant was a nasturtium. The girls, who Tina says look like their mom—”blonde hair, bright blue eyes, big smile”—have also been playing Nintendo DS games.

Jaycee and Shayna, who was a toddler when Jaycee was taken, had “an instant connection,” says Tina, while Jaycee and her mother “are always sitting close and smiling.” They all talk about everything and nothing—like the movie Enchanted, a fairy tale about a princess banished from her home. “Jaycee just said, ‘Oh, I like that movie too,'” says Tina. In lighter moments like those, she gets the urge to touch Jaycee, “because it almost feels like it’s not real. I know the road ahead is filled with a lot of different experiences. But for now Jaycee is back with us, and she feels happy.”

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