Anything But Ordinary


By Lara Avery

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Bryce remembers it like it was yesterday. The scent of chlorine. The blinding crack and flash of pain. Blood in the water.

When she wakes up in the hospital, all Bryce can think of is her disastrous Olympic diving trial. But everything is different now. Bryce still feels seventeen, so how can her little sister be seventeen, too? Life went on without her while Bryce lay in a coma for five years. Her best friend and boyfriend have just graduated from college. Her parents barely speak. And everything she once dreamed of doing-winning a gold medal, traveling the world, falling in love-seems beyond her reach.

But Bryce has changed too, in seemingly impossible ways. She knows things she shouldn’t. Things that happened while she was asleep. Things that haven’t even happened yet. During one luminous summer, as she comes to understand that her dreams have changed forever, Bryce learns to see life for what it truly is: extraordinary.


Copyright © 2012 by Southpaw Entertainment and Alloy Entertainment

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

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“Upgrade U” by Angela Renee Beyince, Shawn C. Carter, Willie James Clarke, Sean Garrett, Garrett R. Hamler, Beyoncé Gisselle Knowles, Solange Knowles, Clarence Henry Reid, Makeba Riddick (Angela Beyince Music, B day Publishing, Carter Boys Music, EMI April Music, EMI Blackwood Music, Inc., EMI Longitude Music, Hitco Music, Janice Combs Music, Solange MW Publishing, Team S Dot Publishing, Yoga Flames Publishing). All rights reserved.

“La Vie En Rose” by Mack David, Edith Giovanna Gassion, Luis Guglielmo Guglielmi (Universal Polygram International Publishing, Inc., Warner Bros, Inc. (Warner Bros Music Division)). All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens). All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-4231-7909-2


To my brother Wyatt

Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

eartbeat has been generally faster.”

Who said that? Match sound with image. Lights and metal and movement. A woman’s hands untying something. Sounds but no image. Try again.

“Get her records,” a voice said. “She’s coming—” Before the sound cut out again, the light pooled, brighter and brighter.

This was a game Bryce played. How long would it take for the endless exhaustion to set in? Sometimes she bothered to open her eyes, but it was difficult enough just to remember that she had been around once, being and talking. The very idea made her retreat back into the dark. It hurt to be alive.

But she had been playing sound-plus-image for a while now. Five days? Five hours? Even if it was five minutes, the sensation was a strong one.

Someone’s breath was on Bryce’s face. “Get her parents on the phone.”

Bryce’s parents. She had heard their voices in the darkness, but she could never make out their words. They had touched her shoulder, rubbed her forehead. But Bryce was too tired. I can’t, she tried to say. I can’t move.


Bryce could tell by her tone the woman was trying to speak softly, but she wanted to put her hands over her ears. Her fingers twitched at her sides. She opened her eyes. Light flooded into her skull. Colors became shapes, shapes became people.

The smells and sounds switched on like a machine. The acidy scent of cleaner, mechanized humming, metal creaking. A gray-haired woman leaned over her with a stethoscope, blocking the fluorescent lights.

She was awake.

“I’m hungry,” Bryce had breathed, though it was a pain to talk. The room was silent, save for the beeping of machines and the slurping of liquid Jell-O from a straw. She moved her tongue through the sweet substance, relearning the motions of every swallow. The movements were blurry, but everything else came at her with an edge. The hospital room was the beige color of pale skin and seemed to throb. Her mother sat near the bed in an electric-pink bathrobe. Her father stood next to her mother, in his same old gold-and-black Vanderbilt sweat suit, COACH emblazoned on the chest. Their faces erupted in teary smiles as her gaze hit them.

It was all different. Her mother’s hair was shorter, for one. And her dad had lost some weight. They had been waiting for a long time. What had happened?

“Bryce.” The voice from earlier, now softer, came from a short-haired woman in a white coat. “My name is Dr. Warren. Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital,” Bryce said in a dull monotone that didn’t sound like her voice. She cleared her throat. “Hospital,” Bryce repeated in a higher, lighter tone, looking at her parents.

Dr. Warren kept writing on her clipboard. “Do you know what you are recovering from?”

Bryce swallowed. Her throat felt like sand. She could do this. Push yourself. “I was asleep.”

Dr. Warren nodded. “You were in a coma. You suffered serious head trauma. In order to heal, your brain eliminated your consciousness for quite some time.”

The dive, Bryce thought, the blinding crack coming back to her in a flash of pain. The memory replayed itself again as Dr. Warren spoke, and for a strange moment Bryce could see herself from the stands, a blur in a colorful swimsuit, falling to the water.

“The good news is that your brain’s healing progress was not as absent or slow as we had thought. We’ll do some more MRIs, but it looks like your cognitive functions will continue to improve.”

“Why can’t I move?” Bryce asked. Beside her, the heart monitor began to beep more quickly, as if warning her. As if her body knew something she did not.

“Your recovery depends on how well your muscles return from extended disuse,” Dr. Warren replied carefully.

Recovery. Her brain was foggy, but the word never meant much to her. She avoided injury. For competitive athletes, there was could or could not. There was no recover. She looked at her hands. They didn’t move much, but they looked fine, a little pale and thin maybe.

“How long was I asleep?”

Dr. Warren looked at Bryce’s mother, her eyebrows raised in a silent question. Her mother nodded at Dr. Warren. The doctor started in slowly. “Bryce, you’ve been unconscious for a while. Some things have changed.”

Bryce felt blood rush to her cheeks. She ignored the doctor’s steady gaze, trying and failing to clench her fists, feeling for the first time the presence of tubes stuck in her forearm.

“Where’s Sydney?” Bryce’s curly-haired twelve-year-old sister was probably taking advantage of her stay at the hospital that very moment, going through her stuff, putting on her junior prom dress and pretending she was a Broadway star.

“Your sister is out,” her father said, crossing his arms.

“Out?” Bryce responded. “Doing what?”

“Syd—well.” Her mother tightened the tie on her pink bathrobe. “She’s…gotten older. We all have, even you.” She laughed a little.

Bryce noticed the circles underneath her mother’s light blue eyes, the gray glinting in her dad’s close-cropped hair. They hadn’t answered her.

“How long—”

She was interrupted by fast footsteps, the squeak of the handle, a bang on the wall as the door flung open. A tall, pale teenage girl loped in. She looked familiar.

Bryce’s mother sprung up. “Not now.” She stood between Bryce and the girl.

“Yes, now! Are you kidding?” the girl responded.

“Please,” her mother said, but it was more like a command.

From the other side of the bed, Bryce’s father said loudly, “Elizabeth—just…” He finished his sentence by shaking his head.

The girl wore fishnets and heavy-soled boots. Bryce glanced at her parents, but their eyes were fixed on the floor. Back to the girl. Dark waves. Their father’s big dark eyes.

Sydney. The girl was Sydney. Bryce’s heart skipped a beat.

Her mother stood over the chair. “Please. She’s not ready. She’s disoriented.”

“Seriously, Mom,” Sydney said through gritted teeth. “Maybe now would be a good time to pretend I’m part of this family.”

Dr. Warren moved toward the door. “I’ll give you all some time.”

“Bryce.” The girl grasped the support poles on either side of the hospital bed, as if the sight of Bryce made her dizzy. The smell of cigarettes filled Bryce’s nose. She frantically looked for the dark freckle near Sydney’s ear, the one Sydney pretended was an earring. It was there. “You’re…awake,” Sydney whispered.

“How—” Bryce began but stopped when Sydney looked straight at her, mascara streaked on her round cheeks. “How—how old are you?”

“Me?” Sydney landed her black fingernails on her chest. Bryce noticed for the first time a small hoop piercing her lip. “I’m seventeen.”


Bryce felt like she was underwater, trying to swim to the surface. She’d been asleep for five years? She was…twenty-two?

“Oh, my god,” Bryce breathed. Her blood was pumping so hard it felt like it was trying to escape her fingers. Tears leaked out from her eyes, running down her face. She thought of her calculus exam, the one she’d barely studied for. Olympic Trials. Graduating from Hilwood High. She was supposed to stand next to Gabby. They’d planned it. Greg would be at her other side.

What now?

She couldn’t look at anyone, though they were all looking at her. She closed her eyes.

Bile welled in her throat, and heat grew on her forehead, stabbed by pinpricks of pain. The hospital window was imprinted on the back of her eyelids, the world outside of it changing from night to day, and in another moment she felt the room was bathed in moonlight and sunlight, dusk and dawn.

A hospital room. The shades drawn.

Bryce realized she was looking at her own sleeping form on a strange, distant afternoon. Her family drifted around the hospital bed, looking like they used to. Her mother’s eyes were glazed, as if they had been emptied of tears. She laid her head on the bed next to Bryce’s body. Her father paced the room, his coaching whistle around his neck, anxiously running a hand through his dark hair. Sydney was still twelve years old. She sat in the patterned chair in the corner, her head in her hands, her body shaking silently. Nobody moved to comfort her.

Then the pain that had risen up so quickly vanished, and Bryce was blinking into the glare of the fluorescent lights. Her family stared back at her, still shadows of the people she knew. She wished this older, sadder version of her mom and her dad and her sister would go away and come back as their usual selves. With a pang she thought of their faces as she had last seen them, flushed and beaming above GO BRYCE! T-shirts. She had huddled with them in a big group hug. Her dad reminded her to watch the timing on her back tuck. Her mother told her to loosen her goggles, that they looked too tight.

Then Greg and Gabby jumped in behind her, and they were all smiling nervously at each other, their heads close together. Gabby reached to give Bryce’s face a couple of playful slaps. “Focus!” she cried. Greg stretched across the huddle and his lips met hers in a soft, sweet kiss.

It felt like yesterday, not five years ago.

She’d awoken from nightmares before, but…the Jell-O rose up in her stomach as she realized she would never wake up from this.

This was her life now.

“I can’t believe you guys,” Sydney said, grabbing the arms of her chair. “Why doesn’t she know that already? Why didn’t you tell her?”

“Sydney, your input is unnecessary right now.” Their father fumbled for his wallet. “I’m getting one of those crappy coffees,” he muttered and walked out of the room, their mother following, talking in a low whisper. It was the first time they’d so much as moved since she woke up.

Sydney scooted closer to the bed. She continued to stare at Bryce in disbelief, as if at any moment Bryce would disappear.

“Have they told you anything that happened?” she slurred.

Bryce stared. “Sydney, are you drunk?”

“Did they tell you about everything?” Sydney pressed on. “About Greg and Gabby?”

“That’s enough,” Bryce’s mother’s voice came sharply from the doorway. She handed her coffee to Sydney. Bryce kept her eyes on her sister, begging her to go on.

“Bryce just woke up,” her mom said in a gentler tone. She sat on the bed, crossing the long legs Bryce had inherited. She brushed hair from Bryce’s eyes. “You must be tired.”

“The opposite.” Her body was heavy, but everything else felt flurried now, like snowflakes that were scattering away, and her mind was scrambling to catch it all. She wanted to move, but instead only her eyes darted, looking at Sydney. “Do Greg and Gabby know I’m awake?”

Her mother reached out to touch Bryce’s cheek. “Let’s just slow down.”

“I agree.” Dr. Warren had reentered, flipping a page on her clipboard. “Though her vital signs are excellent, with the extraordinary amount of cerebral activity that has occurred in such a small amount of time, Bryce is at risk for any number of brain malfunctions.”

Bryce tried to meet her family’s eyes, to show them somehow she was ready to wake up. For good. She wasn’t a piece of faulty equipment breaking down, malfunctioning. She was here. She was back.

Dr. Warren put her hand on Bryce’s shoulder. “Bryce, you’ve been amazing through all of this. You’re really strong. But we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few days, or even in the next few hours.”

Bryce barely heard. She wondered when Greg and Gabby were going to come. Were they really twenty-two years old? Was she really twenty-two years old? This was the last place she’d wanted to be in five years. She should have won at least one gold medal by now. Instead she was caught in a strait jacket of her own body.

“My one commandment is rest,” Dr. Warren went on, her voice more relaxed. “I know it seems silly, but the best thing is sleep. Okay?”

“Got it,” Bryce said, but her thoughts were elsewhere. Every second, more was coming back. Her nerves had faded, and all that was left were hard truths. She couldn’t move her legs. That needed to change. I’ve got to get going, Bryce thought. I’ve got to get back to normal.

“Say good night, everyone,” Dr. Warren continued. “You can sleep in the waiting room if you like. We’ll be watching her closely.”

Bryce’s father leaned down to kiss Bryce on the cheek. “Good night, sweetheart. We’ll be right outside.”

“See you in the morning,” her mother said, reaching down to do the same. Then she whispered in Bryce’s ear. “You don’t know how wonderful it is that I get to say that.”

“Night, Bry.” Sydney backed out of the room awkwardly.

Dr. Warren was the last to leave, smearing her makeup as she rubbed her eyes. “Get some rest.”

Bryce wished she could lift her arm to wave. They were sandbags, heavy at her sides.

The door swung open, letting in a sliver of fluorescent light from the hospital hallway. The beam of light widened into an arc across the floor as Dr. Warren paused at the entrance. Then she closed the door, muffling the noise of the hallway and leaving Bryce alone in the dark.

raham, Bryce. 3B. Neurology Wing. Vanderbilt Medical Center. Nashville, Tennessee. Third window from the right, if you’re looking up at the glassy blue side of the building. Third from the left if you’re looking out from that particular room, counting each window. Which Bryce was doing. Thirty-two, so far. Graham, Bryce. 3B. Heart rate normal. Blood pressure normal. Eyesight—blocked by a hopping cicada, trying to pass through the pane. Bryce followed the fluttering insect with her nose against the glass, making little pools of mist with her breath.

You don’t want to get in here anyway, little guy. The cicada finally landed, inches from her cheek. Its long, bean-sized body looked like it was covered in armor. Its wings were like lace. Slowly, slowly, she picked up her hand from where it rested on the sill and brought it to the window. As her fingertips got closer, the glass got hotter. Not hot in a way that burned her, but warm and bright at the same time. She withdrew, wondering. Suddenly, the glass was liquid, melting away with light at the edges, and there was a hole big enough to reach through. The cicada stayed where it was, frozen like a bug in amber.

She put her hand toward the glowing gap and curled her fingers around the insect. She had it! Bryce brought the cicada back through, feeling its wings flap against her palm. She held it close to her face.

A flash of heat, and a blink, and it was gone. There was no melting or glowing. She was leaning against the window under the fluorescent buzz of room 3B, clutching at nothing.

“Weird,” she said aloud. She looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then she tried it again, moving her fingers slowly toward the glass, but they hit the cool pane with a thud.

Bryce turned her wheelchair away from the window. She had been awake for a few weeks now, and as time went on, it became clear: something felt different, and not just about her; a filter colored everything. It was like at the optometrist’s office when he flipped lenses in front of her eyes through a machine and asked her which one was clearer. Number one, or number two, he would say, but there were no blurry circles now. Each circle was clearer than the one before, crisp with the most precise details.

It was probably cabin fever. Anyone would start seeing things when their sights were limited to beige linoleum and cheesy paintings of waterfalls and castles. Bryce was surprised she hadn’t started talking to herself. Apart from her family, she hadn’t had all that many visitors. She had wanted to see Gabby and Greg immediately, but she got a visit from Elena, Gabby’s mom instead. Elena told her Gabby and Greg were backpacking with a group of their friends around Europe since graduating from Stanford. Why Stanford? Bryce had wanted to ask. Vanderbilt had offered them all scholarships. They hadn’t even been thinking of West Coast schools before the accident. Now they were across an entire ocean. She wondered idly if there were any places to go cliff-diving in Europe. She had always wanted to do that.

There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Bryce said as her nurse, Jane, held open the door for an older man in a sport jacket. He was either a reporter or a doctor. She had already lost track of how many magazines and medical journals had interviewed her. She had told her parents to approve everyone who asked for an interview because the Grahams often got paid for the stories, and even though Bryce’s parents refused to talk about it, she knew her treatment must be costing them a fortune. Her mom’s design business had taken off in the last year, and her dad was still coaching at Vanderbilt, but it couldn’t be enough.

Bryce ran her hands nervously through her hair in case he was going to take a photo, trying to remember who he was.

“You okay then, corncake?” Jane asked as she backed out the door.

“Well, um—” Bryce started, but Jane’s Garfield-printed scrubs were already disappearing out the door.

“Hello there, Ms. Graham. My name is Dr. Felding.” She shook his warm, dry hand. He was barrel-chested and balding. He looked like a coach, Bryce thought. “I’m the head of research for neurology at Cornell.”

Bryce just smiled thinly, tuning him out. She had already answered a million questions from researchers at Columbia and Johns Hopkins. At this point, doctors across the country knew her brain better than she did. Apparently not only was her waking up after five years a miracle, her ability to talk and scoot around made her some sort of medical phenomenon.

Bryce had a hard time feeling miraculous when most of the conversations she had in the past month revolved around who was going to cut her toenails or walk her to physical therapy twice a day. She envied Sydney, breezing in and out for her obligatory five minutes a day at the hospital, wearing short skirts, smelling like the outside. Bryce did not feel like a miracle. She felt like a freak of nature. She felt bored.

The doctor was still talking. “…so I was hoping we could schedule a further evaluation at our facility, once you’re up for travel.”

Bryce just shrugged. “We’ll see,” she said, gesturing to her wheelchair, as if it might make the decision for her.

“So, Bryce.” He took a seat on the chair next to her, taking out a notepad. “What was it like to wake up?”

“Like being dipped in a bucket of ice water,” she began. This was her go-to response.

“Could you hear and see right away, then?”

Bryce recalled the lights pooling above her, the sounds of machines kicking in. “I could. It took a little bit—”

“Unbelievable,” Dr. Felding interrupted in awe. “According to your charts, you are recovering more rapidly than any other documented case. And your journal mentions that you’ve even stood up a couple of times?”

“You have my journal?” Bryce’s stomach twisted. It was just a notebook in her now scratchy, second-grade handwriting that Dr. Warren told her to keep, so she could remember new skills that came each day, or side effects of certain medicines. But still. It was hers.

Bryce tried to glance behind the doctor, hoping Jane might come back.

Dr. Felding waved a hand. “Just a copy.”

“Excuse me,” a young man’s voice said from the doorway.

Bryce’s eyes were drawn to a pair of worn New Balance sneakers. The shoes were attached to a pair of khakis, followed by an untucked button-down shirt. They belonged to a handsome, dark-haired young man. The doctor’s coat he wore seemed out of place.

He said sternly, “Are you authorized to be in here?”

“Hi. Liam Felding, Cornell University.” Dr. Felding stood up and took the young man’s hand. “I’m just asking Bryce a few questions.”

“That’s nice,” the guy said dismissively, crossing his arms. “But visiting hours are over. She needs to eat lunch.”

“The receptionist said until three o’clock,” Dr. Felding protested.

“Blood relations only during lunch,” he replied. Bryce thought she could see a hint of a smile on his face, but she wasn’t sure.

“But—” Dr. Felding began.

“Are you her uncle?”

“No, but—”

“Her distant cousin?”

“No.” Dr. Felding stood awkwardly.

“Kindly leave until she finishes lunch.”

“How long will lunch last?”

The young man shrugged. “Could be forever, who knows?” This time, he glanced at Bryce, his eyes glinting.

Dr. Felding stared. The guy in the doctor’s coat stared back. Finally, Dr. Felding closed his notepad and left.

“Thanks,” Bryce said, as soon as he was out of earshot.

“I’m Carter.” He crossed over to her; she took his outstretched hand. His eyes were a familiar blue-gray. Bryce felt the room drop away around her. They could have been shaking hands anywhere. In a park, in an elevator. Had they met before?

“Bryce,” she said, and they let go.

“Bryce Graham, I am aware.” He smiled. Then he said slowly, “I have to say, it’s a trip to see you up and about.” He turned to retrieve a tray from a cart outside the door.

“I never know how to respond when people say things like that,” Bryce said to his back.

“It’s just nice to hear your voice, I guess, after watching you for so long.” He attached a tray of chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes and peas to the chair’s arms. “That sounded creepy,” he finished, crossing his arms decidedly, as if stating a medical fact.

“It did, yeah.” Bryce nodded and matched his tone. She had to laugh.

“I’m sorry. I’m a med student at Vanderbilt.” He gestured behind him, as if the school was there. “I’ve been volunteering here since I was an undergrad—I see a lot of patients come and go. And sleep.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway. I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Bryce said.

Carter gestured to the tray. “Jane said, and I quote, ‘Tell her if she doesn’t clean her plate in fifteen minutes I will tan her hide.’ So I would get on that.”

He took a paper checklist out of his back pocket and put a mark next to her name, flipping the pen back behind his ear when he was done. Bryce took a bite and struggled to think of something to say. “So what year are you in med school?”

“Just my second year.” He came back toward her. He tapped the folded paper on the back of her chair. “Can you keep a secret?”

Bryce nodded.

“I’m not actually supposed to be wearing a white coat.”

Bryce pointed at him, her mouth full of food. “I knew it!”

He shrugged, and smiled. “Yeah, you don’t get a coat here until you do a residency. But I saw you were on your own, and…well, I thought the doctor might not listen to me in my current ensemble,” he glanced down at his khakis and untucked shirt, “as professional as it is. And then the supply closet was open.…”

Bryce found herself grinning. “Now that I’m keeping your secret you have to do something for me,” she said, sticking rows of peas on her fork.

“What’s that?”

She gave him a tentative look. “You wouldn’t happen to have your laptop with you, would you?”

As time had passed and Bryce had begun adjusting to the big things, she started wondering about the little ones—what had happened to her Facebook when she went under? She had five years’ worth of ESPN and SpringBoard posts to catch up on. She’d thought about asking Sydney to sneak in her phone, but the rare times Syd visited she was usually fighting with their parents, anyway.

“I do have my laptop.” Carter looked at her, deliberating. “But they restrict anyone with high risk of brain overstimulation from computers. All the flashing and visual stimuli can give you a killer headache.”

“Damn,” Bryce muttered. She was getting antsy to do something besides stare out the window, counting tiles and imagining magical bugs.

“Wait there,” Carter said suddenly. He turned on his heel and disappeared from the room.


On Sale
Sep 11, 2012
Page Count
336 pages

Lara Avery

About the Author

Lara Avery is the author of A Million Miles Away and Anything But Ordinary. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she is a contributor at Revolver and at work on her next novel.

Learn more about this author