Jack put an arm out and moved Clarice away from her father. He had a number of reasons he didn't want to be too close to Damien, but the obvious one was he was afraid of him.
"We just want you to stop sending your daughters back in time. That's all! Why can't you do that?" Jack pleaded.
"You can be poor if you want. I don't want to be."
"Then why don't you go back yourself?" Jack asked. "Why do you send your daughters back? If it's so important for you to be rich, then you go back and get sick!"
"I'll send them back whenever I feel like it. And I'll send them back again as soon as I get rid of you," Damien said, walking toward Jack. "I'm done talking with you."
Jack nodded. "I'm done talking to you, too."
Jack stared past Damien's shoulder and shook his head sadly. Damien spun around, thinking Clarice was sneaking up on him.
Jeb Guthrie stood directly behind Damien. He tossed the second Doorway on top of the first one. "Time to go, big guy," Jeb said.
He flashed Jack a sad smile with his bright, white teeth, then griped Damien in a bear hug.
And just like that, they were gone.
Clarice stared at Jack from behind the Christmas tree, her eyes wet and shining in the glow from the Christmas lights. "Where did they go?"
Jack opened up the 25th and last door on the Doorway. He pulled out a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it and flattened it out, revealing a brightly colored illustration of a fantastical alien world.
"Utopia," Jack said.
Clarice had been in state of shock. Or maybe she was just tired - it was almost one in the morning, after all.
Either way, Jack sent her to go sleep with her sisters. Told her that he'd be there in the morning and they could discuss, well, the future.
She stumbled off to bed and Jack turned back to the Doorways. He had one more trip to make.
Clarice woke up, squinting in the bright sunlight. She heard Emma and Nat laughing, but they weren't in the bed. She wandered into the kitchen and found her sisters on the floor, wrapping paper and ribbon scattered around them, playing with new dolls. They giggled and laughed, showing each other their new toys. Clarice couldn't remember her sisters ever waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents like a normal family.
"Merry Christmas," Mary said, standing at the stove. She held up the pan. "How would you like an omelet?"
Jack sat at the table, shoveling food into his mouth. "They're pretty good."
"Sure," Clarice said, sitting down. She grinned at Jack, confused.
Jack shrugged. "This is Mary. Jeb's sister. She thought she'd come by and help out for a while. Keep an eye on you guys."
"Thank you," Clarice said.
"Sure. I always wanted to give that Doorway a try," Mary said. "Works alright."
"Oh!" Jack said, standing up quickly. "I just remembered. I've got a gift for you, too."
Jack and Clarice sat on the floor of the living room, under the Christmas tree. Jack held a small gift, wrapped poorly, with no ribbon or bow.
"Sorry about the wrapping," Jack said. "I'm pretty bad at it. And I was sort of in a hurry."
"Jack, I don't know what to say. You've done so much for us already. You've risked a lot to help us."
He handed Clarice the gift. "Just open it already."
Clarice leaned over and hugged Jack tightly. She leaned back and ripped open the paper, exposing a tan book with a picture of a winged sphinx on the cover.
"What is it?" Clarice asked.
"The Time Machine by H.G. Wells," Jack said. "We need to do a little reading. Maybe take some notes. Get some new ideas."
"To figure out how to get you well. You're not dying on me," Jack said. "No way."
Clarice smiled and opened the book. "We better get to work,"
"Yeah, we better."