If Only It Were True: A Novel

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Overview

What do you do when you find a stranger in your closet, particularly when she's surprised that you can even see her — and she can disappear and reappear at whim? What if she then tells you that her body is actually in a coma on the other side of town? Should you have her see a psychiatrist or should you consult one yourself? Or do you take a chance and believe in her, and allow yourself to be swept up in an extraordinary adventure?
This is the beginning of the dilemma Arthur, a ...

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Overview

What do you do when you find a stranger in your closet, particularly when she's surprised that you can even see her — and she can disappear and reappear at whim? What if she then tells you that her body is actually in a coma on the other side of town? Should you have her see a psychiatrist or should you consult one yourself? Or do you take a chance and believe in her, and allow yourself to be swept up in an extraordinary adventure?
This is the beginning of the dilemma Arthur, a young San Francisco architect, is facing when he discovers Lauren in his apartment. Arthur is the only man who can share Lauren's secret, the only one who can see her, hear her, and talk to her when no one else so much as senses her presence. So when doctors prepare to end Lauren's physical care — which would destroy the magical bond she and Arthur cherish — he must find a way to save her. For, after all, it is only her love that can save him.
A heartwarming love story that's impossible to forget, an adventure that is by turns breathtaking and hilarious, If Only It Were True is a captivating tale that evokes the essence of romance and our boundless capacity to believe.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Simply magical."
New York Post

"This debut by a Frenchman, bien sûr, is summer's most romantic read."
Glamour

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
When Arthur discovers a beautiful woman in his apartment, he thinks he's struck it rich. Then she tells him that she's a spirit, and her body is in a coma in the hospital. What will become of her if and when her body awakes?
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the book, by a French architect based in San Francisco, that made a huge Hollywood deal, and then a seven-figure sale to Pocket Books. It's an interesting study in the difference between a movie concept and a novel. One can imagine it as an offbeat romantic comedy on the screen, with charismatic actors and some nifty special effects, but as a book it's slight and one-dimensional--and it doesn't help that Levy has no ear whatsoever for American speech patterns. The gimmick at the heart of the story is a mixture of the movie notion of "meeting cute" and the Invisible Man tradition. Arthur, a young architect in San Francisco, finds a beautiful girl hiding in the closet of an apartment he has just bought. The problem is, only he can see her; she is, in fact, a spirit emanation of Lauren, a nurse who is lying in a coma at a nearby hospital after a near-fatal accident; the apartment used to be hers. After initially rejecting her explanation, Arthur begins to fall for Lauren, and determines that he must remove her comatose body from the hospital before her grieving mother can bring herself to cut off her life support. Helped by his skeptical business partner, Arthur accomplishes this with a borrowed ambulance and Lauren's knowledge of how the hospital works. Then the "body," along with the attendant invisible Lauren, is spirited away to the Carmel hideaway Arthur has kept since his beloved mother's death from cancer. (Life with mother is rendered in a series of saccharine scenes that would embarrass a maker of life insurance commercials.) George Pilger, one of the most improbable American police inspector ever to grace the pages of a novel, gets onto Arthur's escapade and goes down to Carmel to confront him. Will Arthur be arrested? Will Lauren die? In a gentle fable like this, there can be no real surprises. What is surprising is that so slender a tale, which actually reads more like a draft of a screenplay, should have appeared as an (almost) full-length book. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Arthur returns home to find a lovely young woman--whose body lies comatose in a hospital far away. Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks bought the rights. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-First-time novelist Levy scored a bestseller with this book in his native France. It is a light, frothy tale of love conquering all, even a coma. Lauren Kline, a medical resident at San Francisco Memorial Hospital, is young, beautiful, and content with her life. Then a faulty steering mechanism in her old clunker of a car causes her to suffer head injuries in a shattering car accident. As she later explains, she could hear everything around her in the hospital recovery room, but could neither move, see, nor speak. She learns that she is languishing in a coma, having somehow survived being pronounced dead. Enter Arthur, an architect and partner in a restoration firm, who recently moved into an apartment and finds it comes equipped with an unexpected bonus-Lauren. Well, her spirit, anyway, since her body continues to reside in the very hospital in which she worked. She's not dead, so the apartment-dwelling Lauren is not actually a ghost, and she seems to have form and substance, but only Arthur can see and hear her. Readers learn that for months she has been psychically transporting her spirit all over the city until she finally comes back to her own apartment-now Arthur's. This feel-good story is an easy and engrossing read, and it should be particularly popular with teen girls.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
First novel, a bestseller in France at 160,000 copies: a variation on the love-after-death story that made the film Ghost so popular. ER intern Lauren Kline has a road accident, her old Triumph skidding on rain-greasy asphalt, and winds up back at her own San Francisco hospital in what looks like an irreversible grade-four coma. She lies abed for six months before her detached spirit, visiting the old apartment kept up by her mother, meets its new tenant. Arthur, an architect who has just been sent packing by his girlfriend, opens a closet one day, and finds Lauren's spirit just sitting there. She's been wandering around for the past half year, and she's quite lonely because no one sees her. But Arthur does; he can even touch her. Gosh, what could possibly happen after this meet-cute? Well, it does. Arthur and Lauren become lovers in romantic San Francisco. But Arthur's best friend, Paul, thinks his buddy is bonkers, especially when he gets roped into helping Arthur kidnap Lauren's body from the hospital when her mother decides to pull the plug and let her die. (Presumably, this would not be good for Lauren's new love-life.) The story's best scene is the hospital kidnapping, with Arthur in a doctor's jacket being called to help out a dying diabetic. The rest, set on Carmel's oceanside, is flower-strewn, lyrical, and immensely predictable. Levy's prose is no better than his plotting: his informational sentences display almost no sense of the urgencies of language or strivings for expression. What can you say when French rationalists take this pancake-batter to heart? Will moviemad, dough-brained Americans do likewise? Projected gross: $$Film rightsto DreamWorks; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743276849
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 5/17/2005
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 595,659
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Levy lived in San Francisco for six years before returning to France to run an architectural firm. He divides his time between America and Europe. Just Like Heaven is his first novel and was an instant #1 bestseller in his homeland. Foreign rights have been sold in twenty-eight countries.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter Three

Arthur opened the door to the street-level garage with his remote control and parked his Saab. He climbed the outside staircase that led from the garage to his new third-floor apartment, swung the door shut with his foot, put his briefcase down, took off his coat, and collapsed onto the couch. Several cardboard boxes were still stacked in the living room, waiting to be unpacked. He had moved in only ten days ago, and he hadn't brought much with him — only his draftsman's table, his work files, his CDs, and his art and architecture books. Only after his relationship with Carol Ann had finally, definitively fallen apart had he accepted that it was time for him to move on, to try to start living his own life again, rather than the somewhat tentative, temporary one he'd grafted onto hers.

He'd been lucky to find this apartment. An architect specializing in the restoration of homes, he was amazed by how comfortable he'd immediately felt when he'd entered this apartment. Whoever had designed this environment had a keen sense of life and had created a home of taste and charm — and coming from Arthur, that was a supreme compliment. He hadn't had to change anything — just fit his draftsman's table between the fireplace and the writing desk, buy some towels and linens and rudimentary kitchen supplies, and he'd had an instant home.

He changed his suit for a pair of jeans and began to unpack his books and CDs, arranging them alphabetically on the shelf by the fireplace. When he had finished, he stood back and contemplated his perfectly ordered collections. "I think I might be getting a bit obsessive," he said to himself.

He went to the bathroom, hesitated between a shower and a bath, finally opting for the bath. He started the water running, switched on the little radio sitting on the radiator next to the walk-in linen closet, undressed, and sank into the tub with a sigh.

As Peggy Lee sang "Fever" on 101.3 FM, Arthur dunked his head several times under the water. There was something odd about the acoustic quality of the song. He was surprised by the stereo effect, particularly since his radio had only one, crummy internal speaker. He sat up straight in the bath and listened carefully. It sounded as though the finger-snapping accompanying the tune came straight from the linen closet. Intrigued, he emerged from the water and crept over to investigate. The sound was becoming more and more distinct. He paused, took a deep breath, and abruptly threw open the doors. His eyes widened, and he stumbled back.

Huddled on the floor beneath the hangers sat a young woman, eyes closed, seemingly transported by the rhythm of the song, humming along and snapping her fingers.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shocked, and amazed, all at once. "Who are you?"

The woman jumped and looked at him with wide, startled eyes. "You can see me?"

"Of course I can see you."

She seemed astonished that he should be looking at her. "You can hear me?"

He pointed out that he wasn't blind or deaf and asked again, "What are you doing here?"

"This is wonderful, amazing!"

Arthur saw nothing "wonderful" about the situation, although there was plenty that was "amazing." Increasingly irritated, he asked, "What, I repeat, are you doing in my bathroom closet?"

"I don't think you realize. Touch my arm."

He stood there nonplussed as she held out her arm.

"Please..."

"No, I won't touch your arm. What's going on here?"

She took Arthur's wrist and asked him if he felt it when she touched him. Greatly exasperated, he confirmed that he did indeed feel her touch, that he saw her, and that he heard her perfectly well. For the fourth time, he asked her who she was and what she was doing in his bathroom closet.

She ignored his question. "I just can't believe it. You can actually see me, hear me, and feel me. This is fabulous."

Arthur was in no mood for this game. "Okay, that's enough! What is this, a practical joke? A call girl from my partner as a housewarming gift?"

"Are you always this rude? Do I look like some sort of hooker?"

Arthur sighed. "No, you don't. You're just hiding in my closet in the middle of the night."

"And yet you're the one who's naked, not me."

Arthur, startled, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist as he tried to compose himself.

"All right now, the joke is over, you can come out of there, go home, and tell Paul it was lame. Very, very lame."

She did not know Paul, she told him. "And could you please stop yelling. Other people may not be able to hear me, but I can hear perfectly well."

Arthur was much too tired for this nonsense, and he wasn't going to play twenty questions trying to figure out what was really going on.

"Listen," he told the young woman before him, "it seems you're quite disturbed, but it's not my problem. I've just finished unpacking, and I'm very tired and I really need some peace and quiet. Please, please stop whatever game you're playing and go home. And come out of that closet, for God's sake!"

The young woman looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid it's not that easy. I haven't quite gotten the knack yet, though it's gotten better the last few days."

"What's 'gotten better' the last few days?"

"Shut your eyes, I'm going to try."

"To try what?"

"To get out of this closet. That's what you want, isn't it? So shut your eyes, I have to concentrate. And don't say anything for a couple of minutes."

"This is completely insane!"

"Oh, please. Just shut up and close your eyes. Then we won't have to spend the night here."

Not knowing what else to do, Arthur obeyed. Two seconds later he heard a voice coming from the living room.

"Not bad. I just missed the couch, but still, not bad at all."

He hurried from the bathroom and saw the young woman sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. She acted as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

"I'm glad you've kept the rugs, but I can't stand that painting on the wall," she said, indicating his college attempt at abstract expressionism.

"I'll hang whatever painting I want, wherever I want. I don't know how you do this place-shifting business. And really, I don't care. I simply want to go to bed. So if you won't tell me who you are, fine. I don't need to know. I beg you, just go home!"

"I am home! Or at least, I was. It's all so confusing."

Arthur shook his head. "Listen, I moved in here ten days ago. This is my home, not yours."

"Yes, I know, you're my postmortem tenant. If you think about it, it's really rather funny."

"Funny? What do you mean, 'postmortem tenant'? The owner of this apartment is a woman in her seventies, and very much alive — or at least that's what the Realtor told me."

"She'd love to hear that," she said sarcastically. "She's only sixty-two, although she has aged a lot recently. She's my mother, and for the time being she's my legal guardian. I'm the actual owner."

"You have a legal guardian?"

"Yes. In my present condition, I'm having a tough time signing papers."

"Are you under hospital care?"

"That's putting it mildly."

"Well, they must be very worried about you. Which hospital is it? I'll drive you there."

"Hey, you don't think I'm some nutcase that just escaped from an asylum?"

"No, not..."

"Because first you call me a whore and now a nutcase. That's a bit much for a first meeting."

"Listen, I really don't care who you are: whore, nutcase, you could even be some fugitive from Bewitched. I'm exhausted and I just want to go to bed and get some sleep."

She ignored him and kept on with her questions. "How do I seem to you?"

"Seem? Disturbed, you seem very disturbed," he said flatly.

"I mean physically. How do I look?"

Arthur hesitated before describing her. He told himself, maybe if he went along with her charade for just a bit, he could get rid of her. And she really was quite striking, he realized as he concentrated on her appearance. "You're rather pretty," he admitted. "You're about average height, rather slender — long legs, I see. Your eyes — " He stopped short. Her eyes were remarkable — an indeterminate color that seemed to be every color at once, almost like the eyes of a newborn. But he wasn't going to get caught up in this folly. "You have a full mouth, pale skin, a pleasing face whose sweetness is in total contrast to your behavior. Your hair is a bit of a mess and could use a good combing out, but it's quite a nice color."

She laughed. "If I asked for directions to Market Street, would you list every building I'd pass on the way?"

"I'm sorry, I don't get the joke."

"Do you always describe women so minutely?"

Arthur felt his anger rising. He was fed up. "How did you get in here? Do you have copies of the keys?"

"I don't need keys. It's so amazing that you can see me. A miracle. I just can't get it. And your description of me was really very kind, very sweet." She patted the floor beside her. "Please sit down, here beside me. What I have to tell you is not easy to understand, impossible to accept. But if you will listen to my story — if you are willing to trust me — then maybe in the end you'll believe me. And it's very important that you, in particular, should believe me. For without knowing it, you are the only person in the world I can share my secret with."

Arthur sighed, it seemed he had no choice. He must hear what this young woman had to say. So, even though all he wanted was to sleep, he sat down next to her and listened to the most improbable tale he had ever heard in his life.

Her name was Lauren Kline, and she claimed to be a doctor, a medical resident. She told him she had had a car accident six months ago, a serious one, when her steering system failed. "I've been in a coma ever since. No, don't start thinking yet; just let me explain." She had no memory of the accident. She had regained consciousness in the recovery room. Overwhelmed by the strangest sensations, she could hear everything going on around her, but could neither move nor speak. At first she attributed this to anesthesia. "But I was wrong; hours went by, days, and I couldn't wake up physically." She continued to perceive everything but was unable to communicate with the outside world. "That was the most terrifying period of my life: for several days I thought that I was quadriplegic. You have no idea what I went through. A prisoner inside my body for life." Even worse, the outside world — the doctors, her mother, her friends — all seemed to believe that she'd suffered irreversible brain damage.

She had wished with all her might to die, she said, "but it's hard to end it all when you can't even lift your little finger. My mother sat by my bed, day after day, hour after hour, and I begged her with my thoughts to smother me with the pillow." One day a doctor entered the room and she recognized his voice: it was her supervising physician, Alan Fernstein. Mrs. Kline asked him whether her daughter could hear when people spoke to her. Fernstein said he did not know, but studies suggested that comatose patients were indeed sometimes aware of what went on around them. So they should all be careful what they said when they were in her room. "Mom asked him if there was any chance I'd come back one day." Fernstein answered quietly that he still did not know, but that she should hold on to a reasonable measure of hope, because people had been known to emerge from comas even after several months. It was rare, but it happened. "Anything is possible," he said. "We're not gods; we don't know everything. Deep coma is a mystery to medicine."

"I was relieved to hear that," Lauren said. "My body was relatively undamaged. Fernstein was not exactly comforting, but at least he wasn't final, either. Quadriplegia is irreversible," Lauren added. "The weeks dragged on, and on, longer and longer, and soon seemed endless. I lived through them by using my mind and memory to transport myself to other places. In my imagination I'd go everywhere I couldn't go and recount to myself every detail of the places I knew and loved. It was a way to relieve the endless monotony. One night, I was picturing the bustling activity I heard outside my door. I pictured the corridor — the nurses scurrying by, arms full of folders or pushing carts, my colleagues coming and going from one room to another.

"And that's the first time it happened: suddenly, there I was, in the middle of the corridor I had been visualizing so intently. At first I thought it was my imagination playing tricks. I know the place well; after all, I've worked there for several years. But it all felt so astoundingly real. I could actually see the staff around me: Betty opening the supply-closet door, removing some compresses, and shutting it again; Bill going by scratching his head. It's a nervous tic of his; he does it all the time.

"I could hear the elevator doors, smell the awful meals being served. But no one could see me; people moved to and fro without even trying to avoid me. They walked right through me totally unaware of my presence."

In the next few days she learned to move about the hospital. She would concentrate on imagining the cafeteria and she would be there; or the emergency room, and presto, there she was! After a few weeks of practice she could escape from the hospital. She had shared a meal with a French couple at one of her favorite restaurants, seen half a film in a local theater, and spent several hours in her mother's apartment. "I didn't repeat that visit. It hurt too much to be there, and to see how sad she was, even when she was home. It was bad enough to see her every day at the hospital and be unable to communicate with her. Besides my dog, Kali, had sensed my presence and went running around and around whimpering. I made her crazy. I couldn't handle it. It was just too frustrating, too unbearable. So I came here, to this apartment. After all, it was my home, and I feel best here. I especially love it in the afternoons. I've even gotten used to having you around." She smiled, as though prompting him to say something. He didn't. "I sometimes go back to the hospital to be near my body. If I'm away from it for too long, I become incredibly exhausted. I never sleep, I just rest. I'm always awake, twenty-four hours a day." She looked sad.

"You must understand. I live in total isolation. You can't imagine what it's like not being able to speak to anybody, to be completely transparent, not to exist anymore in everyday life. I'm here, I feel alive, yet I can't affect anything or anyone. So you'll understand my surprise, my exhilaration, when you spoke to me this evening and I realized you could see me. I don't know why, but I only hope it lasts. I could talk to you for hours, I so badly need to talk. I've seen so much, thought so much, been so alone for so long. I've stored up so many things to say." Her rush of words gave way to a moment of silence. She looked at Arthur. "You must think I'm crazy."

Arthur's annoyance had left him; despite himself, he was moved by the young woman's emotion and mesmerized by her bewildering tale.

"No, you don't seem crazy. But this is all very — I don't even know how to put it — disturbing, surprising, extraordinary. I don't know what to say. I'd like to help you, but I don't know how I can."

"Let me stay here. Talk to me, let me live again for a while. I won't bother you."

"You truly believe everything you just told me?"

"You didn't believe a word I said." Her face fell. "Right now, you're telling yourself you have a totally unbalanced girl on your hands....I guess I never stood a chance, did I?"

He asked her to put herself in his place. What would her first reaction be if she discovered a man hiding in her bathroom closet — a somewhat overwrought man, whose explanation was that he was some kind of ghost whose body was in a coma?

Her features relaxed and she smiled a little. She had to admit that her first reaction would be to scream. She granted him that the circumstances were bizarre.

"But I beg you, Arthur, you must believe me. How could anyone make up such a story?"

"Oh, yes, my business partner could easily dream up a practical joke on this scale."

"Forget your partner, Arthur. He has nothing to do with it. This isn't a joke."

"How do you know my name?"

"Oh, I was here when you looked over the apartment with the Realtor. I was really pleased you liked it so much. I felt very flattered. I remember you signed the lease on the kitchen counter. I was also here when you brought up your boxes and you broke your model airplane." She giggled. "Of course, I'm sorry you broke your toy, but, oh, the cursing and shouting.

"I even watched you hang that hideous painting on the wall, although I admit I used all my willpower to make it fall down, to no avail.

"I was here when you did your obsessive-compulsive number with your drafting table. You must have shifted it twenty times before putting it in the only position it could possibly fit. It was so obvious, I couldn't fathom why it took you so long.

"I've been with you since the first day. The whole time."

"You're here when I take a shower and when I'm in bed?"

"Don't worry. I'm not a voyeur. Although I must say you're quite nicely built. Apart from those love handles — you'll need to keep an eye on those — but aside from that, you're really quite attractive."

Arthur frowned. She was convincing — or rather, had certainly convinced herself — but her story just didn't make sense. If she wanted to believe it, let her. He had no reason to attempt to persuade her she was deluded; he wasn't her therapist, after all. He glanced at the clock. He just wanted to sleep, and despite her wild tale, she seemed harmless enough, so to bring things to a halt he offered to put her up for the night. He would take the couch in the living room, "the one below my hideous attempt at art," and she could take his bedroom. Tomorrow she would go back to where she had come from, to the hospital, or wherever she wanted to go, and that would be the end of it.

But Lauren did not agree. She stood squarely in front of him, her face defiant, determined. Taking a deep breath, she reeled off an astonishing list of all he had said and done in the last few days. She repeated his phone conversation with Carol Ann last Saturday. "She hung up on you right after you lectured her, fairly pompously I must say, about the reasons you don't want to discuss your relationship anymore. Believe me!" she begged. Then she reminded him of the two cups he had broken unpacking. Believe me! And of how he had overslept and scalded himself in the shower. Believe me! She teased him about the time he had spent looking for his keys, throwing a tantrum although nobody was there. She thought he was unobservant because the keys were right there in plain sight, on the little table just inside the front door. Please believe me. On Tuesday the phone company came round at 5 P.M. after keeping him waiting for three hours. Then she recalled that he ate a pastrami sandwich, spilled mustard on his coat, and had to change before going out again. "Now do you believe me? I've been living with you for ten days. Don't turn away from me, Arthur, I beg you. I'm a walking miracle. Believe me!"

Now he felt exposed, invaded; she had intruded into intimate parts of his life. "You've been spying on me all this time. Why?"

"I haven't been spying on you. Can you see any cameras or microphones in this place?"

"No, I don't, but it would make more sense than your story, wouldn't it?"

"Get your car keys!" she ordered suddenly.

"And where are we going?"

"To the hospital, I'll take you to see me."

"Oh, sure. It's the middle of the night and I'm supposed to schlepp over to a hospital on the other side of town and ask the night nurses to rush me up to the room of a woman I don't know. I'll tell them her ghost is camping out in my apartment, and I really want to get some sleep, but she's dug her heels in, and this is the only way I can get her to leave me in peace."

"Do you know of any other?"

"Any other what?"

"Any other way you're likely to get some sleep."

"Dear God, what did I do to deserve this?"

"You don't believe in God. You said so on the phone to your business partner: 'Paul, I don't believe in God. If we get this contract, it's because we're the best. If we lose it, we'll have to ask ourselves where we went wrong.' Well, consider just for a moment that you might be wrong now. That's all I ask. Believe me! I need you. You're my only hope!"

Hearing Lauren mention Paul's name prompted Arthur to pick up the phone and dial his partner's number.

"Paul, did I wake you?"

Paul's voice was groggy and a little annoyed. "No, no, it's the middle of the night and I was waiting for your bedtime call."

"Really? Was I supposed to call you?"

"No, you weren't supposed to call, and yes, you did wake me. What do you want?"

"To hand the phone over to someone and let you know that this time you've gone too far with one of your stupid practical jokes."

Arthur handed the phone to Lauren and asked her to speak to his partner. She could not take the phone, she told him, because she could not hold any solid object. Paul, getting impatient on the other end of the line, asked Arthur whom he was talking to. Arthur smiled in triumph and pressed the button for the speakerphone.

"Can you hear me, Paul?"

"Yes, I can hear you. What is this about? I'd like to get back to sleep."

"I'd like to sleep too, be quiet a second. Speak to him, Lauren, go ahead, speak to him!"

She shrugged. "If you like. Hello, Paul. You most certainly can't hear me. Unlike your partner, who can hear me, but won't listen to me."

"Okay, Arthur, why did you call? If you don't have anything to say, it's really late."

"Answer her."

"Answer who?"

"The person who just spoke to you."

"You're the person who just spoke to me, and now I'm answering."

"You didn't hear anyone else?"

"Tell me, Joan of Arc, have you been working too hard? Are you hallucinating?"

Lauren was staring pityingly at Arthur.

He shook his head. He realized that if this really was one of Paul's practical jokes, it was too soon for him to call it quits. Arthur told Paul to forget it and apologized for calling so late. Anxiously, Paul asked if everything was all right, and whether he should come over.

Arthur reassured him, "Everything's fine, forget it. Thanks."

"No need to thank me, buddy. If you have a problem, you can wake me anytime with your bullshit, be my guest! We're partners for better or worse. So whenever you're having a bad patch, wake me up and we'll share. Okay, can I go back to sleep or do you have anything else on your mind?"

"Good night, Paul."

They hung up.

"Take me to the hospital, we could have been there by now."

"No, I won't. Because if I do, I'm already halfway to accepting your crazy story. I'm tired and I want to go to bed. So you take my bedroom and I'll take the couch, or else you can leave. That's my last offer."

"You're even more stubborn than I am. Keep your room, I don't need a bed."

"And what will you do?"

"Does it matter?"

"It matters."

"I'll stay right here in the living room."

"Until tomorrow morning. But after that..."

"Yes, until tomorrow morning. Thanks for your gracious hospitality!"

"And no spying on me in my bedroom!"

"Since you think I'm faking, just lock your door. If you're concerned because you sleep in the buff, I've already seen you, you know!"

"I thought you weren't a voyeur."

She pointed out that a while ago in the bathroom she would have had to be blind not to see him nude. He cringed and wished her good-night. "You too, Arthur, and sweet dreams."

Arthur slammed the door to his bedroom. "She's mad," he grumbled. He crawled into bed, pulled up the covers, and tried to go to sleep. But of course, he couldn't. He kept going over her appearance, her words, and that bit of doubt kept flaring, especially when he pondered how she'd vaporized from the closet to the living room. Or, he told himself, maybe he was the one going mad. The green numbers on his digital alarm clock indicated one-thirty. He watched the numbers slip by until two-eleven. Then he rose to his feet, pulled on a thick sweater and jeans, and stepped quickly into the living room. Lauren was sitting cross-legged on the window seat. When he came in, she spoke to him without turning around.

"I love this view, don't you? It's what convinced me to buy this apartment. I love looking at the bridge all lit up at night. In the summer I like to open the window and hear the foghorns. I would always dream that I would count the number of waves that break against the ships' bows before they cross the Golden Gate."

"All right, let's go."

"Really? What changed your mind?"

"Since you've already destroyed most of my night, I may as well settle this right now. I'm supposed to work tomorrow. I have an important lunch meeting, and I really need at least four hours' sleep. Can you hurry?"

"Go ahead, I'll join you."

"Where?"

"I said I'll join you. Trust me for just two minutes."

He felt he had already trusted her quite enough. Before he left the house, he asked her again for her last name. She gave it to him, along with the room number where she was supposedly hospitalized: Room 505. It was easy, she said, only fives. But he saw nothing easy in what lay ahead. Arthur locked the door behind him, went down the stairs and into the garage. Lauren was already sitting in the backseat of the car.

"I don't know how you did that, but I'm very impressed. You must have worked with Houdini."

"Who?"

"Houdini, the magician. Come sit up front; I'm not in the mood to play chauffeur on top of everything else."

"Can you try to be a little kind to me? I told you I haven't perfected my aim yet. Even though I focused hard on the inside of the car, I might easily have landed on the hood. So the backseat is pretty good. Trust me, I'm improving."

Lauren came and sat next to him. She looked out the window as Arthur drove through the night. He broke the silence to ask her what he should say once they reached the hospital. She had an idea: "You're my cousin from Argentina. You've just heard the news, and you've got a layover on your flight to England, which leaves at dawn, and you won't be back for six months. That's why it's imperative for them to break the rules and allow you to visit your beloved cousin, despite the late hour." Arthur did not think that he made a convincing Argentinean and predicted that the ruse would not work.

"Don't be so negative," she said. "If worst comes to worst, we'll come back tomorrow." Besides, she explained, they would have a better chance of getting in if they didn't seem to be worried. But Arthur insisted that it was only Lauren's story and wild imagination that was worrying him.

The Saab turned into the hospital complex. She told him to make a right, then take the third opening on the left and park just beyond the silver pine. Once they were stopped, she pointed to the night bell, warning him not to ring it too long because it annoyed them.

"Who?" he asked.

"The nurses. They have to come from the far end of a long hall, and they don't know how to teletransport themselves." Arthur just sat there, his head resting on his arms atop the steering wheel.

"Come on, wake up!" Lauren called in his ear.

"I only wish I could," he said ruefully.

Copyright © 2000 by Éditions Robert Laffont, S.A., Paris

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First Chapter

Chapter Three

Arthur opened the door to the street-level garage with his remote control and parked his Saab. He climbed the outside staircase that led from the garage to his new third-floor apartment, swung the door shut with his foot, put his briefcase down, took off his coat, and collapsed onto the couch. Several cardboard boxes were still stacked in the living room, waiting to be unpacked. He had moved in only ten days ago, and he hadn't brought much with him -- only his draftsman's table, his work files, his CDs, and his art and architecture books. Only after his relationship with Carol Ann had finally, definitively fallen apart had he accepted that it was time for him to move on, to try to start living his own life again, rather than the somewhat tentative, temporary one he'd grafted onto hers.

He'd been lucky to find this apartment. An architect specializing in the restoration of homes, he was amazed by how comfortable he'd immediately felt when he'd entered this apartment. Whoever had designed this environment had a keen sense of life and had created a home of taste and charm -- and coming from Arthur, that was a supreme compliment. He hadn't had to change anything -- just fit his draftsman's table between the fireplace and the writing desk, buy some towels and linens and rudimentary kitchen supplies, and he'd had an instant home.

He changed his suit for a pair of jeans and began to unpack his books and CDs, arranging them alphabetically on the shelf by the fireplace. When he had finished, he stood back and contemplated his perfectly ordered collections. "I think I might be getting a bit obsessive," he said to himself.

He went to the bathroom, hesitated between a shower and a bath, finally opting for the bath. He started the water running, switched on the little radio sitting on the radiator next to the walk-in linen closet, undressed, and sank into the tub with a sigh.

As Peggy Lee sang "Fever" on 101.3 FM, Arthur dunked his head several times under the water. There was something odd about the acoustic quality of the song. He was surprised by the stereo effect, particularly since his radio had only one, crummy internal speaker. He sat up straight in the bath and listened carefully. It sounded as though the finger-snapping accompanying the tune came straight from the linen closet. Intrigued, he emerged from the water and crept over to investigate. The sound was becoming more and more distinct. He paused, took a deep breath, and abruptly threw open the doors. His eyes widened, and he stumbled back.

Huddled on the floor beneath the hangers sat a young woman, eyes closed, seemingly transported by the rhythm of the song, humming along and snapping her fingers.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shocked, and amazed, all at once. "Who are you?"

The woman jumped and looked at him with wide, startled eyes. "You can see me?"

"Of course I can see you."

She seemed astonished that he should be looking at her. "You can hear me?"

He pointed out that he wasn't blind or deaf and asked again, "What are you doing here?"

"This is wonderful, amazing!"

Arthur saw nothing "wonderful" about the situation, although there was plenty that was "amazing." Increasingly irritated, he asked, "What, I repeat, are you doing in my bathroom closet?"

"I don't think you realize. Touch my arm."

He stood there nonplussed as she held out her arm.

"Please..."

"No, I won't touch your arm. What's going on here?"

She took Arthur's wrist and asked him if he felt it when she touched him. Greatly exasperated, he confirmed that he did indeed feel her touch, that he saw her, and that he heard her perfectly well. For the fourth time, he asked her who she was and what she was doing in his bathroom closet.

She ignored his question. "I just can't believe it. You can actually see me, hear me, and feel me. This is fabulous."

Arthur was in no mood for this game. "Okay, that's enough! What is this, a practical joke? A call girl from my partner as a housewarming gift?"

"Are you always this rude? Do I look like some sort of hooker?"

Arthur sighed. "No, you don't. You're just hiding in my closet in the middle of the night."

"And yet you're the one who's naked, not me."

Arthur, startled, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist as he tried to compose himself.

"All right now, the joke is over, you can come out of there, go home, and tell Paul it was lame. Very, very lame."

She did not know Paul, she told him. "And could you please stop yelling. Other people may not be able to hear me, but I can hear perfectly well."

Arthur was much too tired for this nonsense, and he wasn't going to play twenty questions trying to figure out what was really going on.

"Listen," he told the young woman before him, "it seems you're quite disturbed, but it's not my problem. I've just finished unpacking, and I'm very tired and I really need some peace and quiet. Please, please stop whatever game you're playing and go home. And come out of that closet, for God's sake!"

The young woman looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid it's not that easy. I haven't quite gotten the knack yet, though it's gotten better the last few days."

"What's 'gotten better' the last few days?"

"Shut your eyes, I'm going to try."

"To try what?"

"To get out of this closet. That's what you want, isn't it? So shut your eyes, I have to concentrate. And don't say anything for a couple of minutes."

"This is completely insane!"

"Oh, please. Just shut up and close your eyes. Then we won't have to spend the night here."

Not knowing what else to do, Arthur obeyed. Two seconds later he heard a voice coming from the living room.

"Not bad. I just missed the couch, but still, not bad at all."

He hurried from the bathroom and saw the young woman sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. She acted as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

"I'm glad you've kept the rugs, but I can't stand that painting on the wall," she said, indicating his college attempt at abstract expressionism.

"I'll hang whatever painting I want, wherever I want. I don't know how you do this place-shifting business. And really, I don't care. I simply want to go to bed. So if you won't tell me who you are, fine. I don't need to know. I beg you, just go home!"

"I am home! Or at least, I was. It's all so confusing."

Arthur shook his head. "Listen, I moved in here ten days ago. This is my home, not yours."

"Yes, I know, you're my postmortem tenant. If you think about it, it's really rather funny."

"Funny? What do you mean, 'postmortem tenant'? The owner of this apartment is a woman in her seventies, and very much alive -- or at least that's what the Realtor told me."

"She'd love to hear that," she said sarcastically. "She's only sixty-two, although she has aged a lot recently. She's my mother, and for the time being she's my legal guardian. I'm the actual owner."

"You have a legal guardian?"

"Yes. In my present condition, I'm having a tough time signing papers."

"Are you under hospital care?"

"That's putting it mildly."

"Well, they must be very worried about you. Which hospital is it? I'll drive you there."

"Hey, you don't think I'm some nutcase that just escaped from an asylum?"

"No, not..."

"Because first you call me a whore and now a nutcase. That's a bit much for a first meeting."

"Listen, I really don't care who you are: whore, nutcase, you could even be some fugitive from Bewitched. I'm exhausted and I just want to go to bed and get some sleep."

She ignored him and kept on with her questions. "How do I seem to you?"

"Seem? Disturbed, you seem very disturbed," he said flatly.

"I mean physically. How do I look?"

Arthur hesitated before describing her. He told himself, maybe if he went along with her charade for just a bit, he could get rid of her. And she really was quite striking, he realized as he concentrated on her appearance. "You're rather pretty," he admitted. "You're about average height, rather slender -- long legs, I see. Your eyes -- " He stopped short. Her eyes were remarkable -- an indeterminate color that seemed to be every color at once, almost like the eyes of a newborn. But he wasn't going to get caught up in this folly. "You have a full mouth, pale skin, a pleasing face whose sweetness is in total contrast to your behavior. Your hair is a bit of a mess and could use a good combing out, but it's quite a nice color."

She laughed. "If I asked for directions to Market Street, would you list every building I'd pass on the way?"

"I'm sorry, I don't get the joke."

"Do you always describe women so minutely?"

Arthur felt his anger rising. He was fed up. "How did you get in here? Do you have copies of the keys?"

"I don't need keys. It's so amazing that you can see me. A miracle. I just can't get it. And your description of me was really very kind, very sweet." She patted the floor beside her. "Please sit down, here beside me. What I have to tell you is not easy to understand, impossible to accept. But if you will listen to my story -- if you are willing to trust me -- then maybe in the end you'll believe me. And it's very important that you, in particular, should believe me. For without knowing it, you are the only person in the world I can share my secret with."

Arthur sighed, it seemed he had no choice. He must hear what this young woman had to say. So, even though all he wanted was to sleep, he sat down next to her and listened to the most improbable tale he had ever heard in his life.

Her name was Lauren Kline, and she claimed to be a doctor, a medical resident. She told him she had had a car accident six months ago, a serious one, when her steering system failed. "I've been in a coma ever since. No, don't start thinking yet; just let me explain." She had no memory of the accident. She had regained consciousness in the recovery room. Overwhelmed by the strangest sensations, she could hear everything going on around her, but could neither move nor speak. At first she attributed this to anesthesia. "But I was wrong; hours went by, days, and I couldn't wake up physically." She continued to perceive everything but was unable to communicate with the outside world. "That was the most terrifying period of my life: for several days I thought that I was quadriplegic. You have no idea what I went through. A prisoner inside my body for life." Even worse, the outside world -- the doctors, her mother, her friends -- all seemed to believe that she'd suffered irreversible brain damage.

She had wished with all her might to die, she said, "but it's hard to end it all when you can't even lift your little finger. My mother sat by my bed, day after day, hour after hour, and I begged her with my thoughts to smother me with the pillow." One day a doctor entered the room and she recognized his voice: it was her supervising physician, Alan Fernstein. Mrs. Kline asked him whether her daughter could hear when people spoke to her. Fernstein said he did not know, but studies suggested that comatose patients were indeed sometimes aware of what went on around them. So they should all be careful what they said when they were in her room. "Mom asked him if there was any chance I'd come back one day." Fernstein answered quietly that he still did not know, but that she should hold on to a reasonable measure of hope, because people had been known to emerge from comas even after several months. It was rare, but it happened. "Anything is possible," he said. "We're not gods; we don't know everything. Deep coma is a mystery to medicine."

"I was relieved to hear that," Lauren said. "My body was relatively undamaged. Fernstein was not exactly comforting, but at least he wasn't final, either. Quadriplegia is irreversible," Lauren added. "The weeks dragged on, and on, longer and longer, and soon seemed endless. I lived through them by using my mind and memory to transport myself to other places. In my imagination I'd go everywhere I couldn't go and recount to myself every detail of the places I knew and loved. It was a way to relieve the endless monotony. One night, I was picturing the bustling activity I heard outside my door. I pictured the corridor -- the nurses scurrying by, arms full of folders or pushing carts, my colleagues coming and going from one room to another.

"And that's the first time it happened: suddenly, there I was, in the middle of the corridor I had been visualizing so intently. At first I thought it was my imagination playing tricks. I know the place well; after all, I've worked there for several years. But it all felt so astoundingly real. I could actually see the staff around me: Betty opening the supply-closet door, removing some compresses, and shutting it again; Bill going by scratching his head. It's a nervous tic of his; he does it all the time.

"I could hear the elevator doors, smell the awful meals being served. But no one could see me; people moved to and fro without even trying to avoid me. They walked right through me totally unaware of my presence."

In the next few days she learned to move about the hospital. She would concentrate on imagining the cafeteria and she would be there; or the emergency room, and presto, there she was! After a few weeks of practice she could escape from the hospital. She had shared a meal with a French couple at one of her favorite restaurants, seen half a film in a local theater, and spent several hours in her mother's apartment. "I didn't repeat that visit. It hurt too much to be there, and to see how sad she was, even when she was home. It was bad enough to see her every day at the hospital and be unable to communicate with her. Besides my dog, Kali, had sensed my presence and went running around and around whimpering. I made her crazy. I couldn't handle it. It was just too frustrating, too unbearable. So I came here, to this apartment. After all, it was my home, and I feel best here. I especially love it in the afternoons. I've even gotten used to having you around." She smiled, as though prompting him to say something. He didn't. "I sometimes go back to the hospital to be near my body. If I'm away from it for too long, I become incredibly exhausted. I never sleep, I just rest. I'm always awake, twenty-four hours a day." She looked sad.

"You must understand. I live in total isolation. You can't imagine what it's like not being able to speak to anybody, to be completely transparent, not to exist anymore in everyday life. I'm here, I feel alive, yet I can't affect anything or anyone. So you'll understand my surprise, my exhilaration, when you spoke to me this evening and I realized you could see me. I don't know why, but I only hope it lasts. I could talk to you for hours, I so badly need to talk. I've seen so much, thought so much, been so alone for so long. I've stored up so many things to say." Her rush of words gave way to a moment of silence. She looked at Arthur. "You must think I'm crazy."

Arthur's annoyance had left him; despite himself, he was moved by the young woman's emotion and mesmerized by her bewildering tale.

"No, you don't seem crazy. But this is all very -- I don't even know how to put it -- disturbing, surprising, extraordinary. I don't know what to say. I'd like to help you, but I don't know how I can."

"Let me stay here. Talk to me, let me live again for a while. I won't bother you."

"You truly believe everything you just told me?"

"You didn't believe a word I said." Her face fell. "Right now, you're telling yourself you have a totally unbalanced girl on your hands....I guess I never stood a chance, did I?"

He asked her to put herself in his place. What would her first reaction be if she discovered a man hiding in her bathroom closet -- a somewhat overwrought man, whose explanation was that he was some kind of ghost whose body was in a coma?

Her features relaxed and she smiled a little. She had to admit that her first reaction would be to scream. She granted him that the circumstances were bizarre.

"But I beg you, Arthur, you must believe me. How could anyone make up such a story?"

"Oh, yes, my business partner could easily dream up a practical joke on this scale."

"Forget your partner, Arthur. He has nothing to do with it. This isn't a joke."

"How do you know my name?"

"Oh, I was here when you looked over the apartment with the Realtor. I was really pleased you liked it so much. I felt very flattered. I remember you signed the lease on the kitchen counter. I was also here when you brought up your boxes and you broke your model airplane." She giggled. "Of course, I'm sorry you broke your toy, but, oh, the cursing and shouting.

"I even watched you hang that hideous painting on the wall, although I admit I used all my willpower to make it fall down, to no avail.

"I was here when you did your obsessive-compulsive number with your drafting table. You must have shifted it twenty times before putting it in the only position it could possibly fit. It was so obvious, I couldn't fathom why it took you so long.

"I've been with you since the first day. The whole time."

"You're here when I take a shower and when I'm in bed?"

"Don't worry. I'm not a voyeur. Although I must say you're quite nicely built. Apart from those love handles -- you'll need to keep an eye on those -- but aside from that, you're really quite attractive."

Arthur frowned. She was convincing -- or rather, had certainly convinced herself -- but her story just didn't make sense. If she wanted to believe it, let her. He had no reason to attempt to persuade her she was deluded; he wasn't her therapist, after all. He glanced at the clock. He just wanted to sleep, and despite her wild tale, she seemed harmless enough, so to bring things to a halt he offered to put her up for the night. He would take the couch in the living room, "the one below my hideous attempt at art," and she could take his bedroom. Tomorrow she would go back to where she had come from, to the hospital, or wherever she wanted to go, and that would be the end of it.

But Lauren did not agree. She stood squarely in front of him, her face defiant, determined. Taking a deep breath, she reeled off an astonishing list of all he had said and done in the last few days. She repeated his phone conversation with Carol Ann last Saturday. "She hung up on you right after you lectured her, fairly pompously I must say, about the reasons you don't want to discuss your relationship anymore. Believe me!" she begged. Then she reminded him of the two cups he had broken unpacking. Believe me! And of how he had overslept and scalded himself in the shower. Believe me! She teased him about the time he had spent looking for his keys, throwing a tantrum although nobody was there. She thought he was unobservant because the keys were right there in plain sight, on the little table just inside the front door. Please believe me. On Tuesday the phone company came round at 5 P.M. after keeping him waiting for three hours. Then she recalled that he ate a pastrami sandwich, spilled mustard on his coat, and had to change before going out again. "Now do you believe me? I've been living with you for ten days. Don't turn away from me, Arthur, I beg you. I'm a walking miracle. Believe me!"

Now he felt exposed, invaded; she had intruded into intimate parts of his life. "You've been spying on me all this time. Why?"

"I haven't been spying on you. Can you see any cameras or microphones in this place?"

"No, I don't, but it would make more sense than your story, wouldn't it?"

"Get your car keys!" she ordered suddenly.

"And where are we going?"

"To the hospital, I'll take you to see me."

"Oh, sure. It's the middle of the night and I'm supposed to schlepp over to a hospital on the other side of town and ask the night nurses to rush me up to the room of a woman I don't know. I'll tell them her ghost is camping out in my apartment, and I really want to get some sleep, but she's dug her heels in, and this is the only way I can get her to leave me in peace."

"Do you know of any other?"

"Any other what?"

"Any other way you're likely to get some sleep."

"Dear God, what did I do to deserve this?"

"You don't believe in God. You said so on the phone to your business partner: 'Paul, I don't believe in God. If we get this contract, it's because we're the best. If we lose it, we'll have to ask ourselves where we went wrong.' Well, consider just for a moment that you might be wrong now. That's all I ask. Believe me! I need you. You're my only hope!"

Hearing Lauren mention Paul's name prompted Arthur to pick up the phone and dial his partner's number.

"Paul, did I wake you?"

Paul's voice was groggy and a little annoyed. "No, no, it's the middle of the night and I was waiting for your bedtime call."

"Really? Was I supposed to call you?"

"No, you weren't supposed to call, and yes, you did wake me. What do you want?"

"To hand the phone over to someone and let you know that this time you've gone too far with one of your stupid practical jokes."

Arthur handed the phone to Lauren and asked her to speak to his partner. She could not take the phone, she told him, because she could not hold any solid object. Paul, getting impatient on the other end of the line, asked Arthur whom he was talking to. Arthur smiled in triumph and pressed the button for the speakerphone.

"Can you hear me, Paul?"

"Yes, I can hear you. What is this about? I'd like to get back to sleep."

"I'd like to sleep too, be quiet a second. Speak to him, Lauren, go ahead, speak to him!"

She shrugged. "If you like. Hello, Paul. You most certainly can't hear me. Unlike your partner, who can hear me, but won't listen to me."

"Okay, Arthur, why did you call? If you don't have anything to say, it's really late."

"Answer her."

"Answer who?"

"The person who just spoke to you."

"You're the person who just spoke to me, and now I'm answering."

"You didn't hear anyone else?"

"Tell me, Joan of Arc, have you been working too hard? Are you hallucinating?"

Lauren was staring pityingly at Arthur.

He shook his head. He realized that if this really was one of Paul's practical jokes, it was too soon for him to call it quits. Arthur told Paul to forget it and apologized for calling so late. Anxiously, Paul asked if everything was all right, and whether he should come over.

Arthur reassured him, "Everything's fine, forget it. Thanks."

"No need to thank me, buddy. If you have a problem, you can wake me anytime with your bullshit, be my guest! We're partners for better or worse. So whenever you're having a bad patch, wake me up and we'll share. Okay, can I go back to sleep or do you have anything else on your mind?"

"Good night, Paul."

They hung up.

"Take me to the hospital, we could have been there by now."

"No, I won't. Because if I do, I'm already halfway to accepting your crazy story. I'm tired and I want to go to bed. So you take my bedroom and I'll take the couch, or else you can leave. That's my last offer."

"You're even more stubborn than I am. Keep your room, I don't need a bed."

"And what will you do?"

"Does it matter?"

"It matters."

"I'll stay right here in the living room."

"Until tomorrow morning. But after that..."

"Yes, until tomorrow morning. Thanks for your gracious hospitality!"

"And no spying on me in my bedroom!"

"Since you think I'm faking, just lock your door. If you're concerned because you sleep in the buff, I've already seen you, you know!"

"I thought you weren't a voyeur."

She pointed out that a while ago in the bathroom she would have had to be blind not to see him nude. He cringed and wished her good-night. "You too, Arthur, and sweet dreams."

Arthur slammed the door to his bedroom. "She's mad," he grumbled. He crawled into bed, pulled up the covers, and tried to go to sleep. But of course, he couldn't. He kept going over her appearance, her words, and that bit of doubt kept flaring, especially when he pondered how she'd vaporized from the closet to the living room. Or, he told himself, maybe he was the one going mad. The green numbers on his digital alarm clock indicated one-thirty. He watched the numbers slip by until two-eleven. Then he rose to his feet, pulled on a thick sweater and jeans, and stepped quickly into the living room. Lauren was sitting cross-legged on the window seat. When he came in, she spoke to him without turning around.

"I love this view, don't you? It's what convinced me to buy this apartment. I love looking at the bridge all lit up at night. In the summer I like to open the window and hear the foghorns. I would always dream that I would count the number of waves that break against the ships' bows before they cross the Golden Gate."

"All right, let's go."

"Really? What changed your mind?"

"Since you've already destroyed most of my night, I may as well settle this right now. I'm supposed to work tomorrow. I have an important lunch meeting, and I really need at least four hours' sleep. Can you hurry?"

"Go ahead, I'll join you."

"Where?"

"I said I'll join you. Trust me for just two minutes."

He felt he had already trusted her quite enough. Before he left the house, he asked her again for her last name. She gave it to him, along with the room number where she was supposedly hospitalized: Room 505. It was easy, she said, only fives. But he saw nothing easy in what lay ahead. Arthur locked the door behind him, went down the stairs and into the garage. Lauren was already sitting in the backseat of the car.

"I don't know how you did that, but I'm very impressed. You must have worked with Houdini."

"Who?"

"Houdini, the magician. Come sit up front; I'm not in the mood to play chauffeur on top of everything else."

"Can you try to be a little kind to me? I told you I haven't perfected my aim yet. Even though I focused hard on the inside of the car, I might easily have landed on the hood. So the backseat is pretty good. Trust me, I'm improving."

Lauren came and sat next to him. She looked out the window as Arthur drove through the night. He broke the silence to ask her what he should say once they reached the hospital. She had an idea: "You're my cousin from Argentina. You've just heard the news, and you've got a layover on your flight to England, which leaves at dawn, and you won't be back for six months. That's why it's imperative for them to break the rules and allow you to visit your beloved cousin, despite the late hour." Arthur did not think that he made a convincing Argentinean and predicted that the ruse would not work.

"Don't be so negative," she said. "If worst comes to worst, we'll come back tomorrow." Besides, she explained, they would have a better chance of getting in if they didn't seem to be worried. But Arthur insisted that it was only Lauren's story and wild imagination that was worrying him.

The Saab turned into the hospital complex. She told him to make a right, then take the third opening on the left and park just beyond the silver pine. Once they were stopped, she pointed to the night bell, warning him not to ring it too long because it annoyed them.

"Who?" he asked.

"The nurses. They have to come from the far end of a long hall, and they don't know how to teletransport themselves." Arthur just sat there, his head resting on his arms atop the steering wheel.

"Come on, wake up!" Lauren called in his ear.

"I only wish I could," he said ruefully.

Copyright © 2000 by Éditions Robert Laffont, S.A., Paris

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A sweet love story

    A great read about a man and the ghost that he loves.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    If Only It Were True that it's Just Like Heaven

    The novel, If Only It Were True, is very different from the movie, Just Like Heaven. However, both versions of the story are entertaining for the reader who enjoys the possibilities of what lies beyond the limitations of our mind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2006

    Amazingly Sweet!

    I really loved this book!!! it is really sweet, and i could barely stop reading it!!! the ending was slightly dissapointing, but it was, for the most part, awesome!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2005

    you will love it

    when I started reading it, I could not make my self stop. it a beutiful hearth warming story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2005

    Can't wait for the movie!!!!!! 3> it!

    This was a really nice book to read over the summer. I don't know how old the rest of ya'll are, but I bought this book in the summer of 6th grade! Loved the romance story! The movie better serve the book justice! Besides, I love Jon Heder!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2005

    The Best One Dollar Find Ever!

    I am a person who really enjoys reading books because of attractive titles, low prices or eye-catching covers. I originally found this book for $1.00, the cover and title were great, the best part about it was the book was better. I bought 4 more copies to give out to friends, now I am purchasing a copy to put back in my library. This was the best book ever.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2004

    I loved this book

    I read this book a couple of years ago and loved it. I loaned my copy out to someone and never got it back. I may have to buy myself another copy since I can't seem to remember who I loaned it to. I remember when I was reading this, I was thinking what a great movie this would make. I guess I was right--they are filming it now. I think the movie version will be out sometime next year staring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2004

    Hello! Where Are The Movie Offerings?

    I am speechless! I am in love with this book, the characters and the story. I laughed, cried and threw it accross the room! I bought six copies total!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2003

    If you know a book just like this, pls let me know

    I always love books that blend humor and romance. This is the type of story that stays with you for a long, long time after you read it. At first, I thought the plot is so unbelievable. But Marc Levy wrote it so appealingly different. You just have to get over the fact that Lauren is a living ghost that Arthur can touch. I was surprised that it was written 3 yrs ago and I just stumbled on it just now. I hope that Spielberg makes a movie from it. His the only one who can make a realistic movie out of it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2003

    HEY, SPEILBERG, DON'T LET US DOWN!

    I could not help casting the characters as I read...such a visual story this is!! Lauren is surely Julie Roberts and her heroe/savior is John Cusack. Reminded somewhat of 'Ghost' but with a better story line.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2003

    Worth Reading

    I finished the book glad that I had taken the time to read it. Realistic it's not, but still worth a few hours of fun.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2003

    The plot may sound thin - but it's an amazing book!

    My dad actually read the book first (it was listed under fantasy instead of romance - so it was "guy approved"). I thought the plot was thin and that the ending would be predictible - boy was I surprised! The dialogue was fresh and fun and the plot twisted enough to keep the reader entertained. Also, since the romance was written by a guy the male character is well developed (a change from many romances). I hope you have fun reading this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2003

    Truly Overrated

    I have to say that I was very disappointed in this book. I am very interested in stories with unpredictable twists, but the plot of this story was COMPLETELY far-fetched and left me wishing I hadn't spent a day reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2002

    JUST GREAT!

    I´M FROM MONTERREY, MEXICO, AND I JUST LOVE IT! IT TOOK ME TWO DAYS TO FINISH IT, BECAUSE I JUST COULDN´T STOP READING. I HOPE THAT THING ABOUT STEVEN SPIELBERG, TAKING IT TO THE BIG SCREEN, HAPPEN SOME DAY.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2002

    outstanding

    I am in love with this book. The moment I finished chapeter one i knew i could not put it down, it gets your attention, .A story of the human heart and great love for one another, "if only it were true", will forever be engraved in your memory.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2002

    Teen who understood the meaning

    i am convinced solely by my own desicion that this book was truly amazing. It was love, heartbreak, and magic. Marc Levy has created a wondeful tale of how it is to love and be loved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2002

    A very good and interesting book

    I am 13 and had to read this book for ar in school. It looked very boring but it turend out to be a very very good book. It was so tuching how he kidnaped her body to save her life because he was in love with her. I kind of wish that it would have told what happend after she woke up and he said the same speech to her that she said to him when they meet. I think this a book both teenes and adultes should read it is very interesting and a very happy book. only a little sad at the end

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2002

    AMAZING..

    a real piece of happiness....a little bit of magic and a great book you can read over and over again.... LOVE IT!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2002

    The Best

    Wow, this was one of the best books I have ever read. I couldn't put it down and cried for hours.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2001

    Read it in french

    I looooooved it. I strated it yesterday and just spent half of my night reading it. I could not stop. It is romantic enough for women but not cheazy so men can read it. I loved the end. And it has some really good little things to quote or to ponder about. It is this kind of book that means something if you're a man and another thing if you are a woman and if you read it at 20 or 40 year old. For absolutely everybody

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews

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