"With FIVE DAYS LEFT, what would you do?"
Reviewed by Sharon Salituro
Posted September 11, 2015
Contemporary Women's Fiction | Women's Fiction
In FIVE DAYS LEFT, Attorney Mara Nichols always felt she had the best life.
married to a doctor and they have adopted a beautiful daughter. Then she
receives some shocking news: she had Huntington's disease.
Scott also feels that he has a great life being married to a beautiful women
who's expecting their first child. They have also taken in a foster child, Curtis.
For both of them, they only have five days left: Scott because Curtis is due to
goes back to his mother, and Mara because she has decided to end her life
before her disease worsens. The other thing they have in common is that
they are both on a blog. Little known to the other people
on this blog, Mara and Scott have developed a friendship.
What a heart-filled novel this is. Julie Lawson Timmer writes a great book,
filled with emotion. My heart was breaking for both of the main characters.
One finding out just how much he has come to love his foster child, and the
other one deciding that ending her life would be the best for her family.
Julie Lawson Timmer takes you deep into the lives of these
two people. Could you do this for your family? I myself
don't know if I could. I found myself crying along
with the characters. FIVE DAYS LEFT is such a very sad book. Two different
stories yet so much alike. Get the tissues out when
you read this book.
Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching
about two people who must decide how much they’re willing
sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols is a successful lawyer, devoted wife, and
adoptive mother who has received a life-shattering
diagnosis. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been
fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother
serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days
left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the
Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the
individual limits of human endurance and the power of
relationships, and shows that sometimes loving someone
holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.
ExcerptCopyright © 2014 Julie Lawson Timmer
Tuesday, April 5
Mara had chosen the method long ago: pills, vodka and
carbon monoxide. A “garage cocktail,” she called it. The
name sounded almost elegant, and sometimes, when she said
it out loud, she could make herself believe it wasn’t
It would still be horrific for Tom, though, and she hated
herself for that. She would rather do it without leaving a
body for him. But as much as she’d love to spare him from
being the one to discover her, she knew not letting him
find her would be worse. And at least this was the tidiest
option. He could have someone come and take her car away.
Fill her side of the garage with something else, to block
the image. Bikes, maybe. Gardening supplies.
A second car for himself. Maybe she should arrange to have
one delivered after. Would that be too weird, though? A
gift from your dead wife. She should have given him one
years ago. For their anniversary, or to celebrate bringing
baby Lakshmi home. Or just because. She should have done so
Mara frowned. How could it be that she had spent almost
four years ticking off all those items on her long list of
things to do before she died, yet here she was, five days
from it and still thinking of things she should have done?
Ah, but that was the trick of it. Tell yourself you’ll wait
until you’ve accomplished every last thing and you’d keep
putting it off. Because there would always be one last
thing. Which might be fine for someone who had the luxury
of delaying a few more weeks, or months, or years even,
until they were finally out of excuses and ready to go
through with it.
Mara didn’t have that luxury. In less than four years,
Huntington’s disease, the mother of all brain cell
destroyers, had already done more damage than she and Tom
could have ever prepared for. She had the severance papers
from the law firm to prove it. The once graceful, athletic
body that was now slow to react, reluctant to cooperate.
If she allowed herself to experience that one more moment
with her husband and daughter, to travel to that one last
must-see destination, she might wake the next morning to
find it was too late, and Huntington’s was in control. And
she would be trapped in the terrifying in-between of not
being able to end her life on her own, and not truly
Time was against her. She couldn’t risk waiting any longer.
She could make it to Sunday, as she had planned. But she
couldn’t wait past then.
Mara took a long swallow of water from the glass on her
bedside table and stood. Inhaling deeply, she reached to
the ceiling with both hands and focused on the bathroom
door across the room. It was tempting to cast her eyes up
toward her hands, the way the move was supposed to be
executed, but she had gotten cocky before and the hardwoods
always won. She counted to five, exhaled and tilted forward
slightly, pressing her hands toward the floor for another
count of five. A Sun Salutation modified beyond
recognition, but enough to clear the fog from her brain.
The hiss of the shower stopped and Tom emerged from the
bathroom, toweling his dark hair. “Good morning,” she said,
eyeing his bare torso. “You’re wearing my favorite outfit,
He laughed and kissed her. “You were out cold when I got
up. I was planning on asking your parents to come over and
get Laks on the bus.” He tilted his head toward the bed. “I
can still call them, if you want to catch a few more
Laks. Mara’s throat closed. She reached the dresser and put
a hand on it to steady herself. Turning away from her
husband, she pretended to fuss over some spare change and
loose earrings on the dresser. She swallowed hard and
coaxed her throat into releasing some words.
“Thanks, no,” she said. “I’m up. I’ll put her on the bus. I
need to get moving myself. I’ve got errands to run.”
“You don’t have to run errands. Why don’t you write out a
list and I’ll get anything you need on my way home.”
He walked to the closet, pulled on dress pants, reached for
a button-down. She made a furtive wish for him to choose
blue but his hand found green. She would try to remember to
position a few of his blue shirts in front so he would
reach for one before the end of the week and his cobalt
eyes would flash one more time.
“I’m capable of running a few errands, darling,” she said.
“Of course you are. Just don’t push it.” He tried to sound
stern, but his expression showed he knew she would take
orders from no one.
He put on his belt—third hole—and she shook her head. He
hadn’t gained a pound in twenty years. If anything, he was
in better shape, logging more miles in his forties than he
had in his twenties, a marathon a year for the past ten.
She supposed she could take some credit for it, since these
days he ran partly to manage stress.
She walked to the door, lightly touching his shoulder as
she passed him. “Coffee?”
“Can’t. Patients in twenty.”
A few minutes later, she felt him wrap his arms around her
from behind as she stood at the kitchen counter, inserting
a premeasured coffee pack into the coffeemaker. Loose
grounds tended to end up on the counter or floor rather
than in the filter these days.
Tom kissed the back of her neck. “Don’t do too much today.
In fact, don’t do anything at all. Stay home, take it
easy.” He turned her around to face him and smiled in
defeat. “Don’t do too much.”
Mara watched him disappear into the garage. She willed her
breathing to slow and her eyes to stop burning. Turning to
the coffeemaker, she made herself focus on the plip,
plip of the coffee as it dripped into the pot, the
scent of hazelnut, the steam rising from the machine. She
set a cup on the counter, filled it halfway and gazed at it
longingly. As tempted as she was to take a sip, she had
learned to let it cool. Her hands couldn’t be trusted to
stay steady, and it was better to have only a stain to
clean than a burn to soothe. Calmer, she made her way down
the hall to her daughter’s room and peeked in the doorway.
A small head lifted drowsily from the pillow and a wide
grin, gaping in the middle where four teeth had recently
gone missing, greeted her. “Mama.”
Mara sat on the bed, spreading her arms wide, and the girl
climbed into her lap, pressing her body close and gripping
tightly around her mother’s neck.
“Mmmm, you smell so good.” Mara buried her face in her
daughter’s hair, freshly clean from last night’s bath.
“Ready to take on another day of kindergarten?”
“I want to stay with you today.” The little arms clutched
tighter. “Not letting go. Not ever.”
“Not even if I . . . tickle . . . right . . . here?”
The small body collapsed in a fit of giggles and the arms
loosened their grip, allowing Mara to wriggle away. She
stood, took a few steps toward the door and, calling forth
her best “Mommy means business” look, pointed to the school
clothes laid out on the glider chair in the corner of the
“All right, sleepyhead. Get dressed and brush your hair,
then meet me in the kitchen. Bus comes in thirty minutes.
Daddy let you sleep late.”
“Oh . . . kay.” The child stood, stepped out of her pajamas
and walked to the chair.
Mara propped herself against the door frame, pretending to
supervise so she could steal a few precious seconds
watching the waif whose skinny, olive-colored frame still
took her breath away.
As she dressed, Laks sang one of her rambling songs, a
play-by-play of what she was doing, set to her own
meandering tune. “Sprite music,” Mara and Tom called it.
“Then, I put my jeans on,
with the flowers on the pockets,
and a pink shirt,
that is so pretty.”
She stepped away from the chair and did a pirouette, arms
raised above her head, hands in “fancy position,” as she
had seen the big girls do at ballet school. Striking a
final pose, she looked at her mother and smiled
triumphantly. Mara forced her trembling lips into a smile
and, not trusting her voice, held up a hand, fingers spread
wide, indicating the number of minutes the girl had to make
her way to the kitchen.
Lying in bed on the night of her diagnosis almost four
years ago, Mara had stared into the darkness while Tom,
heartbroken beside her, slept fitfully. Long before the
first gray streaks of dawn pushed away the inky black
night, Mara made herself a promise: she would choose a date
and not waver from it. No second-guessing, no excuses.
She would live like hell until that date arrived, as much
in control of her remaining days as she could be. Give
Huntington’s a run for its money before she finally flipped
it the bird, swallowed her cocktail and exited the world
the same way she had lived in it—on her own terms. She
wouldn’t give the sonofabitch disease the satisfaction of
taking that from her.
Choosing a date was easy: April 10, her birthday. She knew
Tom and her parents would mourn her on that date no matter
what, and it didn’t seem fair to give them a second day to
feel so sad. But which April 10, which birthday? Not the
first one after her diagnosis, she decided— surely she had
at least one good, full year left before the disease moved
into the next stage. The second seemed too soon as well.
But the fifth could be too late.
By the time the Texas sun had cast its earliest rays
through the spaces in the blinds, turning their bedroom
ceiling from light gray to white, Mara had concluded the
safest plan was to choose a symptom that signaled the
beginning of the end, a warning that the disease had moved
out of its early stages and into the more advanced. Once
that symptom occurred, she would give herself until the
next April 10, and then she would lower the curtain.
As she waited in the kitchen for Laks, a sudden wave of
nausea hit her and she gripped the side of the counter,
hoping the feeling would pass before her daughter appeared.
She squeezed her eyes tight but there was no escaping
yesterday, and her queasiness only worsened as the previous
morning replayed itself on the inside of her eyelids.
She had been standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery
store. A small boy stood several feet away, a chubby hand
resting on his mother’s hip as she bent to retrieve
something from a low shelf. The boy smiled shyly at Mara
and she smiled back.
He raised a hand and she was waving in return when, without
warning, she felt the overpowering need to go to the
bathroom. She tried to recall where the store’s restroom
was and wondered why her body was acting so impatient.
Before she could come up with either answer, it was too
late. Slowly, she tilted her head to inspect her light gray
yoga pants, now showing a large wet patch at the crotch. A
thin, dark line trailed down the inside of her right leg.
“Oh my God,” she whispered. “Oh no.”
She put a hand in front of the biggest part of the stain,
trying to hide it. But the boy had already seen, and his
mouth formed a surprised “O.” Mara tried to smile at him
again, to reassure him there was nothing to be upset about—
and nothing to tell his mother. Her mouth wouldn’t
cooperate, though, so she raised a finger to her lips. But
the boy’s mother straightened then, and he tugged on her
wrist with one hand and pointed at Mara with the other.
“Mommy! That lady didn’t get to the potty on time!”
Mara’s face caught fire. She reached for the jacket she
always carried in her shopping cart to ward off the store’s
high-powered air-conditioning, but it wasn’t there. She had
forgotten it in her car. Frantically, she searched for
something she could cover herself with.
The boy’s mother, her face impassive in the studied manner
of someone trying not to react, grabbed a package of paper
towels from her cart and ripped them open as she walked
toward Mara, her son in tow. “Don’t stare,” the woman
But the child’s eyes remained fixed on Mara’s wet pants. As
they got closer, he pinched his nose with a tiny thumb and
This brought a reprimanding hiss from his mother. “Brian!”
Reaching Mara, the woman held out a ream of paper towels.
“Maybe if you pat it?” Despite her neutral expression, her
face was bright red and her nose twitched almost
imperceptibly. “I could get a blanket from my car but,” the
woman said, nodding toward her son, “by the time I get him
all the way there and back . . .”
Thank you,” Mara whispered, reaching for the paper towels.
“This has never happened before.” She blotted at her pants
while Brian pulled on his mother’s wrist. After a minute,
Mara lifted wet, shame-filled eyes to the woman’s soft,
sympathetic ones. “You don’t have to stay. I don’t want to
upset your son.”
“He’s fine,” the woman said, tearing off more paper towels
and handing them over. Mara searched for somewhere to put
the used sheets, finally shoving them into her purse. This
earned a gasp from the boy, who renewed his efforts to pull
his mother down the aisle. The woman tugged the wriggling
child to her side and put a flat hand on his head,
anchoring him in place. Bending so her lips were beside his
ear, she whispered, “This nice lady needs our help, and
we’re going to give it.”
“Shh! Not one more word.”
Mara stopped working on her pants and raised her head,
parting her mouth to speak. She’d had too much coffee, she
wanted to tell them. Not to mention all the water she had
to drink to get the pills down. And the protein shake Tom
insisted she drink every morning to keep weight on. Also,
she’d been distracted by the long list of errands she had
to run. She hadn’t taken time to go to the restroom in the
past few hours.
She closed her mouth. She wouldn’t burden someone else with
her story. Lowering her head, she dabbed more frantically
but it was no use. The pants were too light, the stain too
dark. And now she had white flecks all over from the paper
towels. “I don’t think it’s working,” she said to the
woman, and a jagged shard of humiliation shot through her
as she heard her frustration come out in a high-pitched
whine. She stared at the wet paper towels in her fist. She
would need a long, soapy shower to remove the stench.
Mara glanced at the boy again, disgust evident in the curl
of his lip, and thanked God she was here alone with only
strangers as witnesses. What if Laks had been with her? Or
Tom? The thought drained the blood from her head and she
put a hand on her cart to steady herself. “I’m so sorry
about this,” she said, looking from mother to son.
“What’s wrong with her?” Brian whispered, and his mother
and Mara locked eyes briefly, a wordless agreement they
would both ignore the boy’s question.
“He’s darling,” Mara said, not wanting the woman to be
upset with her son for his reaction. Who could blame him?
“I hate to do this, but I’m going to leave my cart right
here and make a run for my car.”
“I can reshelve your things,” the woman said. Gesturing to
Mara’s pants, she said, “It’s a little better, actually.”
But her smile was plastic, and Mara felt like a child being
told her self-cut hair looked “fine.”
“Thank you for your kindness,” Mara said quietly. “Please
know how sorry I am.”
“Not at all. You take care now.”
As Mara retreated down the aisle, she could hear the
woman’s too-cheerful voice reading the rest of her grocery
list aloud, drowning out the noise of the child beside her
who was, Mara was certain, asking his mother what was wrong
with the crazy lady with the purse full of pee-filled paper
She forced herself to hold her head high as she walked past
the cashiers and out the front door. By the time she
reached the parking lot, her lips were trembling and she
could feel the familiar pressure in the top of her throat,
signaling impending tears. She toppled into her car,
pulling the door closed almost before her feet were out of
the way, and fell against the seat, hands covering her
“Oh my God, oh my God. Oh my God!”
Sobs tore from deep inside her and she gasped for air
around them. When she was too exhausted to hold herself
upright, she dropped her body forward, letting her head
fall to the steering wheel. She stayed like that, bent
forward and weeping, for an hour, rewinding the episode in
torturously slow motion over and over in her mind, each
time wishing for a different ending.
Finally, her body was too spent to produce any more tears
or noise, and she became vaguely aware of cars pulling up
nearby, the sound of radios, slamming doors, children
calling to parents. She let herself rest against the
steering wheel a little longer before she straightened,
wiped her cheeks and nose with a sleeve and met her own
gaze in the rearview mirror.
“That’s it, then,” she said grimly to the puffy, red-rimmed
eyes staring back at her. “My birthday is on Sunday. I’ve
got until then.”
Five days left, as of this morning. So little time. But she
had started preparing almost four years ago, that early
dawn as she lay beside her husband, settled on her deadline
and promised herself she wouldn’t make any excuses for
letting it go by.
Since then, she had savored each moment as though it were
her last. Big ones: Laks’s birthdays, Thanksgiving,
Christmas, their anniversary. And small ones: cooking with
her mother, watching her father read bedtime stories to
Laks, sitting on the bench out front blowing bubbles while
Tom and Laks raced to see who could pop them first. The
small ones, she had decided, were the ones she would miss
Mama?” Laks, backpack slung over one shoulder, the same as
the big kids on the bus, trotted into the kitchen, reaching
for the ballerina lunch bag on the counter. “You didn’t
forget to pack me a cookie again, did you?” She eyed her
mother suspiciously and unzipped the bag to peek inside.
Satisfied, she zipped it up and thrust a hand out. “Ready?”
A clump of hair stuck out over the girl’s right ear, the
result of a glue incident a week earlier. Laks’s best
friend, Susan, accidentally smeared some in her friend’s
hair and, in an effort to rectify her mistake, cut out the
mess with safety scissors. In the days since, Mara had made
a few attempts to get the child to wear her hair in a
ponytail to hide the tufts, but each effort had ended in
arguments and tears and Mara giving in. A lump the size of
a fist blocked Mara’s throat at the sight of her daughter,
bristly-haired and gap-toothed and beautiful.
How could she ever be ready?
But this is why she had made her promise. So she would go
through with it, ready or not.
“I’m not putting it in a ponytail, Mama,” Laks said, her
chin jutting out a fraction in determination, a carbon copy
of her mother even without the shared DNA, Tom often
remarked. “They’re too pully on my hair. I told you.” She
put a hand on her forehead and pulled the skin toward the
back of her head, demonstrating.
Mara cleared her throat and stood. “I know,” she said. “I
wasn’t thinking about your hair. I was only being slow to
“Oh.” Laks nodded, appeased. “Then, are you ready?”
Mara kissed the top of Laks’s head and ran a gentle palm
over the bristles before taking the small hand. “Yes,
sweetie, I’m ready.”
Scott pulled into the driveway and parked close to the
sidewalk to leave room for Curtis, who was shooting hoops
at the net attached over the garage door. Granny shots, the
saving grace of an eight-year-old, he thought. Hearing the
car, Curtis turned and waved.
“Nice arc on those shots, Little Man.”
“Ugh. I’m so tired of doing grannies but it’s all
I can do on this net.” The boy held the ball in front of
him, eyeing it like it was a traitor, then nodded. Scott
dropped his keys and briefcase onto the driveway and in one
graceful movement he caught a sloppy bounce pass, set up a
quick shot and sank it. Swoosh. Curtis grabbed the rebound
and tried a similar shot. Short on grace and shorter on
height, the ball arced a good two feet below the rim. He
arched an eyebrow. “See?”
Scott took the rebound. “I know, I know. I should’ve bought
one of those adjustable stand-alone hoops when we retired
your friend over there.” He nodded toward a worn plastic
basketball hoop leaning against the garage. Sinking another
shot, he stood, arms open wide, and the boy ran to him,
throwing his arms around Scott’s waist. Scott stroked the
head that rested against his stomach, his hand pale white
in comparison to the brown skin showing through Curtis’s
wiry black hair. Leaning down, he pressed his nose and
mouth against the top of the small head
and breathed in the smell of little boy sweat and Michigan
“I’m going to miss you,” he said. The child nodded and
hugged tighter. They stood for a few moments, arms around
each other, until Curtis broke free, dragged a dirty hand
across his wet eyes and ran after the ball.
“Where’s Laurie?” Scott called after the running boy.
“Kitchen. Makin’ lasagna.”
This earned an approving smile. “What’d you do to deserve
that?” “Miss Keller put a check mark in my planner ’cause I
had a real good day.” He gave a “How do you like that?”
look and reached out for a fist bump.
“Nice. That’s two for two this week. Three more and you
stay up late on Friday.”
“Popcorn and a movie. Till ten.” The
boy’s mouth twisted in exaggerated dismay. “But Laurie
wants to watch, too, since it’s our last one, so it’s gotta
be a movie a girl wants to see. No splosions or anything.”
“Still, ten o’clock bedtime rocks, right?”
Curtis brightened. “And popcorn.”
“So, nail the next three days. I’d better go check in. More
hoops after dinner?”
“Maybe. But I have to read tonight. Laurie said.
And practice math.”
Scott smiled at the pretend anger. The boy thrived on the
expectations and rules at the Coffmans’ house, but he was
old enough to know he wasn’t supposed to admit it. Scott
played along. “School’s important, Little Man. Come in soon
He bent to pick up his things and started for the front
door. Behind him he heard a loud “Dang it!” as the
ball, he guessed, came short of the net once again.
Pushing the door closed behind him, Scott set his keys on
the front entryway table and inhaled deeply: garlic,
tomato, basil, cheese.
Laur?” he called. “Smells fantastic in here.”
He dropped his briefcase at his feet and bent to examine a
floor nail that had worked its way loose and now threatened
to catch on the next sock that ran across it. Pushing the
nail down with his heel, he checked the rest of the
entryway for others. It was ten years since he had resanded
these floors. He put a hand reflexively on the small of his
His wife’s vision of a dream house hadn’t exactly matched
their fixer-upper budget. Restoring the hundred-year-old
“needs love” colonial had involved a three-page to-do list
and every weekend and evening for over a year. It was the
price of entry, they told themselves, to the kind of house
she had always wanted and he was determined to give her: a
big, rambling place with wood floors, built-in shelves and
two fireplaces. Full of character and, one day, children.
He ran a flat hand over the entryway wall. Removing all the
layers of wallpaper took them two months alone. Then there
was all the painting— the same neutral “Warm Ecru”
throughout the house with a bold-colored accent wall in
every room, carefully chosen after they compared several
patches of different shades of multiple colors. They joked
about putting the paint department guy at the hardware
store on their Christmas card list.
He reached the doorway to the kitchen and leaned against
the frame. His wife was bent over the oven, her large-
bellied profile still a surprise to him. She hadn’t changed
out of her work clothes, though she had captured her wavy
blond mane in a ponytail.
“Smells fantastic,” he said again.
“Oh, hi there, you. I didn’t hear you.” She set the lasagna
on the stovetop.
He crossed the room to kiss her. “He had a good day, I
hear.” Tipping his head over the lasagna, he inhaled again.
“Mmmm. Glad he did. I’ve been craving your lasagna myself
She made a face and put a hand on her stomach. “That makes
two of you. I can barely stand the smell of it.” In
response to his look of concern, she waved a hand. “It’s
nothing. We had fattoush salad at lunch from that new place
near the office and it was a little too oily. Anyway, don’t
get too excited about the good day. I talked to Miss Keller
when I picked him up. She’s going easy on him this week
because of the transition. He only met half his behavior
goals, but she decided to give him full credit. I think
she’s worried if she doesn’t help him build some positive
momentum, he’ll fall apart completely by Friday.”
“Maybe Miss Keller knows a way to keep me from falling
apart,” Scott said. Sighing, he moved aside the curtain on
the small window above the sink and spied on the boy in the
driveway until a hand on his back reminded him whom he was
supposed to be paying attention to. He let the curtain drop
and turned to his wife.
“I’m surprised you’re going along with the leniency,” he
said. “Lasagna, when he didn’t really meet all his goals?”
All year, Laurie had been the one to lead the discipline
charge. He put a hand on her round stomach. “Impending
motherhood’s making you soft, huh?”
She lifted a shoulder. “I was going to make it anyway, no
matter what I heard from Miss Keller. I wanted to be sure
he had it one more time before he leaves. I’ll do spaghetti
tomorrow, and let him help bake cookies for dessert.
Homemade pizza on Thursday. I thought about baking a cake
on Friday, and you could grill burgers on Saturday. All his
favorites, you know? Although I’m tempted to have him eat
nothing but vegetables and fruit until he leaves, just to
get some nutrients in him before he goes back.”
“Sorry,” she said.
“No, it’s okay. There’s no use pretending. He’s not moving
into the Ritz when he leaves here, and that’s the reality.
And it’s okay—at least, that’s what I’ve told myself a
hundred times a day for the past few weeks.” He closed his
eyes as if reciting a mantra. “It’s going to be okay. Even
if he eats cold ravioli from a can and only showers once a
week and goes back to all his old stunts. All of that is
better than being separated from his mother. Even if she
lets him get away without doing homework, sends him to
school without eating breakfast, the best thing for him is
to be with his mom.”
“All of that is entirely true,” Laurie said, and he could
sense the small tinge of frustration in her voice. “And it
almost sounds like you believe it, this time.” She didn’t
add “finally,” but he knew she was thinking it.
“Almost,” he said. She started to speak, and to avoid
hearing what he knew was coming, he jumped in ahead of her.
“Thanks for picking him up, by the way. Sorry about the
eleventh-hour change of plan. So, can I help with anything
in here? Set the table?”
It worked. She handed him three glasses and a basket of
rolls, armed herself with cutlery and paper napkins and led
him into the dining room. “You’re welcome, but I thought
the whole point of having Pete cover practice this week was
to give you more time at home, not more time for last-
minute meetings with parents. Why didn’t you ask the woman
to wait till next week?”
She spoke in the too-light tone he recognized as reproach
wrapped in politeness, her question more of a challenge.
She had posed similar ones many times: Why did he get up
early Saturday mornings to make the thirty-minute drive to
inner-city Detroit, when he could be sleeping late? Half
the kids who attended the Saturday tutoring program he ran
were only there for the free pizza lunch anyway, didn’t he
see that? Why did he spend his summer evenings at the run-
down outdoor court in front of the school, playing pickup
with kids most teachers were thrilled to have a two-month
break from, or be freed of entirely, now that they had gone
on to high school?
Scott held his palms toward her, begging forgiveness. “You
know how my parent-teacher conference nights go at that
school. I read Sports Illustrated for an hour with
maybe one or two people bothering to stop by. If someone’s
going to finally get involved in their kid’s education,
I’ve got to be there to meet with them. If I put her off
till next week, there’s no guarantee she’d show.”
“You can’t single-handedly save every student at Franklin
“I know. I won’t get to all of them. Three years isn’t
enough time.” He flashed a lopsided grin and hoped it was
She let out a breath as she returned to the kitchen. “That
was not the point I was making, and you know it.”
Following, he reached in the fridge for a beer and opened
it, then filled a glass of water from the tap. He handed
her the glass and raised his bottle. She clinked her glass
against it, took a sip and made a face, a hand on her
“You sure you’re okay?” he asked.
She sighed. “You know how it’s been. I eat one wrong thing
and it throws me off the rest of the day.”
He raised his beer again. “Here’s hoping the last trimester
will be better.” The last trimester was two weeks away. She
was due July 15.
“Hopefully.” She set the glass on the counter and kept her
gaze fixed on it. “I never feel like it’s the right time to
say this, and it’s not now. But I really think having our
life back is going to make things better.” She caught his
expression and quickly added, “Or, not ‘better’
necessarily. Just, you know, easier. Being able to come
straight home from work and sit? Relax? Instead of having
to be taxi driver, afternoon snack server, homework
supervisor, all of that?”
Scott looked out the window again at the boy in the
driveway and didn’t answer. He didn’t have a list of things
he’d rather do than spend time with Curtis.
“Would you rather sit by yourself and read or come and
shoot hoops?” Curtis had asked once. “Laurie says I have to
ask you what you’d rather do, instead of just expecting you
to come out and play every time.” Scott dropped his book to
the floor. “I’d always rather be with you. But would you
rather shoot hoops alone and be unopposed, so you can tell
yourself later you were the best out there? Or have me come
out and wipe the court with you?”
Would you rather. It had become their language. A second-
grade boy’s version of “I love you, too.” Would you rather
eat glass or walk on it? Would you rather swallow a handful
of live spiders or stand for an hour in a roomful of bats?
Scott heard Laurie clear her throat behind him. Would you
rather keep watching the boy and have your wife ticked off
for the rest of the night, or pay attention to her? He
turned from the window.
“I’m going to miss him, too,” she said. She reached in the
drawer for a knife and started slicing the lasagna. “But
I’m focusing on the bright side now, and that’s what you
need to do. I’ve already planned out next week: Monday, I’m
coming home from the office, sitting on the couch with that
stack of baby books I haven’t had a chance to read, and not
moving till dinnertime.” She pointed her knife at him. “I’m
counting on my husband to take me out to dinner that night.
Maybe even a movie after. When’s the last time we had a
She paused, waiting for him to notice his cue. He gave his
impression of an eager nod and, satisfied, she went on.
“Tuesday, I’m finally getting that pregnancy massage the
girls at the office gave me the certificate for. I cannot
wait.” She put a hand on her lower back and rubbed.
“Wednesday . . . well, I’ve only gotten to Tuesday in my
plans. The rest of the week will probably involve a lot of
sitting with my feet up, reading, in absolute silence.”
“Think of everything you’ll be able to do in your newfound
spare time,” she said. “Reading baby books with me for
starters. We’re six months along and about six months
behind in learning what’s going on in there.” She indicated
her belly and he put a hand on it. She covered his with
hers, leaned against the stove and smiled. “Sometimes, I
still can’t believe it, you know? After all this time. A
baby. In this house. In July.” Her smile widened. “Can you
“I’m a grinning idiot every time someone asks me about it,”
Scott said. “So Pete tells me.” Pete Conner was a fellow
English teacher at Franklin, assistant basketball coach to
Scott and his closest friend.
She snapped her fingers. “Oh, I almost forgot. Bundles of
Joy called. That crib we looked at? The one with the claw
feet, that was already sold? Turns out they have another
one coming in on consignment, end of the week or Monday.
It’s gray, but a few coats of paint will change that.
They’re going to put our name on it.”
“Great news on the crib. Not so much on the painting.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun. And only one room this time,
He squinted, letting her know he was on to her. It might
only be one room, but he had seen her to-do list for the
nursery and it was as long as the one she had made for
their attack on the entire first floor. She laughed and
punched his shoulder. “Stop,” she said. “You’re going to
love decorating as much as I am.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’ll go get the kid.”
The front door flew open before he reached it and Curtis
fired himself through at a run. At the last second, Scott
opened his arms to catch him, Curtis laughing at the
impact. Reluctantly, Scott pulled himself away and put a
hand on the boy’s shoulder, steering him toward the
kitchen. “Wash your hands, LeBron. It’s dinnertime.”
Excerpted from Five Days Left by
Julie Lawson Timmer Copyright © 2015 by Julie Lawson
Timmer. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or
reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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