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Getting Out: A Novel

Getting Out: A Novel

5.0 2
by Gwendolen Gross

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A young woman resisting the demands of her dependent family seeks escape in an increasingly dangerous outdoor adventure.

When Hannah Blue joins the Adventurer's Club, she pictures campfires and star-filled nights. And she imagines a temporary respite from the ever-present shadow of her parents' divorce, her siblings' inability to cope in the real world


A young woman resisting the demands of her dependent family seeks escape in an increasingly dangerous outdoor adventure.

When Hannah Blue joins the Adventurer's Club, she pictures campfires and star-filled nights. And she imagines a temporary respite from the ever-present shadow of her parents' divorce, her siblings' inability to cope in the real world without her vigilance, and her boyfriend, Ben, who, it seems, is looking for a commitment. Most of all, she needs a break from the irresistible pull of her father, whose unpredictable moods and imaginary health scares have always kept him at the center of the family universe.

But when her father's latest illness turns out to be real, Hannah finds herself growing addicted to the freedom she finds in the silty caves deep beneath the sunlit woods, on the crevasses accessible only with crampons and ice axes. It's as if she feels more herself when she's outside -- until she realizes that the people she keeps leaving may not always wait for her to come back.

Featuring an appealing, spirited heroine and vivid outdoor settings, Getting Out surpasses the stylistic and storytelling promise displayed in Gwendolen Gross's first novel, Field Guide, and yields a fresh look at the high stakes of love's many expectations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hannah Blue feels trapped. Her Boston design agency job is unimaginative, her boyfriend wants to move in and her family is too needy. After a particularly demeaning encounter with her boss at the start of this creaky drama, Hannah happens upon her colleague Linda's entrancing vacation photographs and garners herself an invitation to a meeting of Linda's Adventurers' Club. So begins Hannah's obsession with the outdoors, the grueling hikes and punishing climbs providing a setting in which she is able to bond with new people while contemplating the direction her life is taking. Gross (author of the well-received Field Guide) is a competent writer, and Hannah's journey to self-discovery is in parts funny, touching and exhilarating. Boyfriend Ben, a museum curator, defies stereotype by being short (five foot six) and unafraid of commitment; Hannah's family members are equally unorthodox, though not fleshed out quite as well. As family problems mount her father has lupus, her brother and his wife are splitting up Hannah flees her increasingly chaotic life and goes on a solo expedition in the New Hampshire woods, which forces her to make some tough evaluations of her recent behavior and decide what it is she really wants. Her final decision has been obvious from the outset of the novel, which wouldn't be such a drawback if Gross's prose had more to offer than solid narrative, but the occasional attempts at stylistic flourishes ("sun spilled inside his lips") feel forced. Still, this is a capable performance, of particular interest to lovelorn hiking aficionados. Agent, Elaine Koster. (June 11) Forecast: Readers who enjoyed the more ambitious Field Guide may be disappointed by Gross's sophomore effort, but Getting Out should pick up a few new readers from the Bridget Jones reader pool. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Even committed couch potatoes should enjoy the graceful blending of outdoor adventuring and wry immersion in family dynamics that distinguishes this engaging second novel by Gross (Field Guide , 2001). We're won over immediately by the catchy, knowing voice of its narrator, Hannah Blue, the twentysomething middle child of a Newton, Massachusetts, family whose members are at odds with one another. Her father, a distracted and somewhat disheveled ceramicist, seems essentially unfazed when he's diagnosed with terminal lupus. Her mother (from whom he's divorced), a prominent surgeon, briskly insists everything's under control. Hannah's siblings Ted and Marla are involved, respectively, in an unsuitable engagement and a troubled marriage. And Hannah's practically perfect boyfriend Ben begins to lose some of his considerable appeal when she impulsively starts spending time away from him as a member of an "Adventurers' Club" devoted to exploring caves, climbing mountains, and testing their communal mettle. Once the aforementioned situations are set up, Getting Out has a pretty arbitrary plot, and few surprises. But it does have Gross's keenly accurate comprehension of her likable heroine's reluctance to choose between sexy mountain men and irreversibly urbanized, gentle Ben; escaping-from versus clinging-to her endearingly screwed-up, essentially goodhearted kinfolk. In keeping with its rotating emphases on hardy self-denial and languorous surrender to creature comforts, this is all notably sensual, alert to subtle smells, tastes, and physical sensations. And who can resist a heroine who says things like "I can't remember my own birth, but I'm sure it was something like caving," and comes to hersenses when, following a climactic solo wilderness trek, she realizes that "I needed practice at attachment." If the fabricated gender-nonspecific machismo of TV's Survivor bores the hell out of you, try this out. It's a charmer.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt

Getting Out
One /I didn't expect to love it so much, to come to need it, going out, the trees lit with green or bare as fingers, the open palm of the sky from a peak, the cheese-flavored camp-stove mash, mornings in rocky-bottomed tents with a cold nose and warm feet, or outside, waking up in new air. I never imagined I'd willingly squeeze through the pitch and silty hollow legs of Spider Cave, belly down in an underground river; that I'd walk backward over the edge of a crevasse; that I'd strap teeth to my feet and cut ice-ax steps into the face of a glacier. That I would long for the smells of cedar and old oak leaves and the woody tang of sassafras twigs against my tongue. I didn't realize I would have to keep going, staying out longer and longer until I could see myself clearly enough to come back inside.In the beginning, it was an excuse to escape my father's silent gravitational pull. It was a way out of the monotony offamily, food, work, sex, and comfort, something to keep me busy when my boyfriend, Ben, had to work weekends.I am short, five foot one, with brown hair and brown eyes that look quite nice together, I think, now that I've forgiven genetics for not making me a green-eyed redhead. Despite my height, I have always been very strong. My butterfly sprint brought the Carleton College swim team reliable firsts and seconds in the relay. I was never the New Cult type; I didn't have the will to try my friends' gym fads: spinning classes and kick boxing and power yoga. Bars rarely enticed me, either, because I got lost in them, standing in a sea of sweaters and elbows. 
I joined the Adventurers' Club in October, when my sister, Marla, had just started seeing Reed, and my brother, Ted, and his wife, Abby, were still together and seemed as strong as a single oak. I was working at a design firm where I conjured indoor spaces and displays, signage, and corporate newsletters for businesses. Despite its location in a swank refurbished brownstone on Beacon Hill, the office housed a potent scent of mouse and dust. The partners had called in cleaners and feng shui consultants and exterminators and aromatherapists, and, for a while, overwhelming blasts of Orange Julius emanated from the copy room, but ultimately the underlying dusty mouse funk clung.Sometimes I designed whole interiors, crafting spectacular rooms to walk through on my computer, and then later I would visit the disappointing coffee shop where they'd replaced my silvery orange and brushed chrome with plain brown paint. At first the projects always looked like they had meat, and I stayed late and woke up thinking about the details: the metal filigree over the menu board, pickled wainscoting, a tongue-in-groove wood ceiling. Then it all gotdulled down over a course of meetings--long toxic affairs with donuts staining paper plates and corpulent handouts with endless columns of numbers that, if you squinted, looked like ants sliding down the pages.The day I found out about the Adventurers' Club, I'd just fled a particularly protracted and sad meeting, in which I had to cut all the velvet wallpaper from my original design and the project manager reminded me of a balloon slowly losing its air. I went back to my cube and spun around in my chair, deciding whether to call Ben. If I called, all peevish, he would probably comfort me, maybe offer to meet me after work at Boston Common. On the other hand, if he was peevish himself, exhausted from having to raise funds for the museum instead of spending them to make exhibits, the bitter price of his recent promotion, he might act dismissive.Ben was usually wonderful: patient and calm. He never acted dismissive on purpose, but sometimes it slipped out. He said stuff like "Jeez, you'd think you had to live in that coffee shop" or "You know, you could stand to design your own apartment a little more" or even "So what, you hate your job." If I looked at him as he said these mean little things, he got a surprised look on his face, his blue eyes slightly glassy, as if someone had stepped into his body for a second and used his voice.Maybe his naked opinions were part of the reason he managed such swift promotion at work, but he didn't work for me. I knew he didn't mean what he said, but he would never take it back, so I got mad. Later, after I sulked for a while and tried to get him to apologize, he'd say, "I'm sorry you got upset." I'd say, "I'm sorry you got me upset," and then we'd have a great time relieving the tension of the fight by chasing each other around my apartment.I was holding my phone but not dialing when my bossslid in my cube's insubstantial doorframe and leaned. My boss, with her short gelled red hair, thought she was arty. She wore faux-bohemian open-toed sandals and tight suits of slightly iridescent fabrics that cost a fortune and made her look like firmly packaged leftovers. She leaned on walls and words and applied posh scents that were not made for her; they warmed against her reptilian skin when she grew excited, and she smelled like an overripe cantaloupe. She got things done, all kinds of things, and kept clients happy. She got promoted. She got my goat. Maybe I was jealous."Um," I said, not sure whether to put the phone down."Hannah," she said. "I need you."I noticed the long shadow of her new client from the bike shop on my carpeted wall. Clyde's was a minor account, so at first I hadn't understood her fuss over him. But then I noticed the tilt of her shiny head, the way she always shifted her hips when she was with him. She was deep in lust. Clyde didn't seem to mind the attention."Hm?" I said. Clyde sidled up behind her. His greasestained finger brushed an invisible piece of lint from her shoulder."I need you to get coffee for us." She held out a twenty, tipping it from the air into my hand, which I hadn't yet volunteered. It wasn't my job, coffee. It hadn't ever been my job at the firm. I wasn't her secretary, and I wanted to say so, and I wanted to take her twenty and slap it across her painted cheeks like a glove in a forties movie. But I also wanted to keep my job."Bev's out," she said, referring to her most recent secretary. She gave me her plaintive look, which was frightening. The gloss on her mouth cracked, and her eyes shed scales of Bite-Me Bronze shadow.My throat itched with obscenities. I commanded myhand to take the bill, but it wouldn't obey and the twenty fell to the floor."Skim vanilla double-shot latte for me." She forced a gruntlike giggle. "And I believe Clyde likes plain coffee. With lots of cream."Clyde started to reach for the bill, but my boss took his hand instead and led him down the hall to her lair. I wanted to scream.I put down the phone, picked up the bill, and stormed down to the coffee shop. I ordered my boss's drink decaf, out of spite, but then changed the order: somehow, she'd know, and she'd know whom to blame.Back at the office, her door was shut, so I marched the coffees into the copy room, where we'd all cool off. I made a quick color copy of her change, wanting to waste something at company expense. The quarters came out black from the reflected light. Then I noticed a stack of photographs by the machine, and something about them was clearly not of the workplace--maybe it was their small size, their lack of super gloss. And I could see from the top one that the subjects were not a new branch of a bank or a ficus-filled restaurant in Back Bay. The top photograph featured a blond man attached to a harness and ropes, a cliff and a huge blue sky above him. His mouth was tight with concentration, his body tense with effort. His fingers gripped the thinnest sliver of rock, and somehow I knew he'd bring himself up.I flipped through the stack. More people, climbing. In every one, the sunshine was fierce, lighting hair and eyes. The man from the first photograph, tall and lean, was joined by an older man with a long nose. They scaled rock faces, peeking over the edge from above, spidermen. There was a woman, who looked slightly familiar, lowering herself over a precipice in successive photographs; there was anotherwoman, with pale hair, stepping backward over the same cliff. She had a scrape on her leg, and the line of blood thickened and spread as her descent progressed.I was engrossed. Not one of them looked tired or worried. An Indian man had wrapped himself in a red rope; his head was tilted back and his mouth open with laughter. Sun spilled inside his lips.The scent of crushed leaves wafted around me as I finished flipping through the stack. I almost forgot the coffee."If you're so interested," said a woman's voice, "maybe you'd like to come to a meeting tonight."I looked up to find one of the women from the photographs; she was tall--close to six feet--and wore black slacks and a soft green sweater with an apostrophe-shaped stain on the cuff. She didn't come all the way into the copy room."You're Hannah Blue, right?" she said. "I'm Linda from marketing. And I believe those are mine." She gestured toward the photographs, which I was smudging with my voyeur's fingerprints."Um, yes," I said."It's kind of an adventure club. We're meeting tonight to talk about winter trips. Want to come?" She had small brown eyes surrounded by an expressive network of creases."Oh," I said. Guilty. "Oh, okay." Why would I want to climb backward over a cliff? But I still had her pictures, so I felt obliged.She smiled, and I handed over the photos."If you're not Interested--" She took one step and was outside the door."Oh, no!" I said. I couldn't let her disappear back into the maw of marketing. "I'm interested. Really. Tell me more."And that was how I joined the Adventurers' Club, by letting the kind-looking Linda woman take me to a meeting atthe Caffe Paradiso in Cambridge, where a group of people who looked normal enough in their button-downs and boiled wool passed around more photographs, from hiking trips and a white-water rafting expedition. All afternoon I had fretted--a meeting. It had sounded so dangerously clubby or cultish. It had sounded like commitment. But as I matched many of the faces to the climbing shots, they struck me as perfectly ordinary people. The trips sounded as thrilling as the photos, though. And as distant. I drank too much coffee for evening and they invited me along on the next excursion: hiking in the Adirondacks. 
I hadn't anticipated the very early morning and the very long drive. I'd heard the time-to-meet at the café, and I'd registered the New York destination, but it hadn't really sunk in. I was too excited by the prospect of unearthing my old hiking boots and getting a good whiff of the Great Outdoors; I pictured a dazzle of foliage and hot chocolate by an ember-rich campfire, a star-punctuated arc of night sky. But when my alarm clicked on a Spanish pop station at 4:45 A.M., I assumed it was a bad layer in my dream, one that would soon transition to a chase scene with a sheepdog or the rescue of blue marine crabs from the angry gods of the sea.I love sleep. I am habitually late for work, or anywhere I have to go in the morning, though come afternoon I become Girl Promptness, arriving at the exact designated minute. But the Adventurers' Club met at 5:30 A.M. at the city hall parking lot in Newton, the suburb where I grew up, and where my mom still lived in her wide-hipped Victorian with curved-glass windows and a dramatic mahogany front door and too many rooms for just her and her second husband.I had to extricate myself from bed at five to make it from Brookline to Newton, in my unreliable inherited Saabnamed Lemon. Lemon was once my stepfather's car, and even when new it was likely to let loose a hose clamp on the highway. Owning it was a matter of hope and duct tape and trips to the junkyard for spare parts. I kept an extra rearview mirror and a mysterious clamp in my closet.Ben was still asleep in my bed. He rolled over, heavy with sleep, his big arm claiming my pillow, as I was trying to untangle my legs from the nest of sheet. Ben always said I danced in my dreams and also that I stole all the bedding, but clearly he was the comforter hog--I could see the mound he'd hoarded even with the shades drawn.Luckily, I got Lemon to start after only three tries. Also luckily, I hadn't signed up to drive on the trip, but unfortunately this meant I had to park on my mother's street and walk half a mile lugging an enormous borrowed frame pack with too much stuffed into its left side. Everything was empty and asleep in the sharp blue transition between night and morning. It was as if I owned all of it, suburban streets and flashing yellow traffic lights, houses with their eyeshades drawn: Greek revivals with Corinthian entrance columns, square-jawed Colonials, the occasional ranch, bland as a plain white T-shirt among the party dresses of velvet and tulle. I jaywalked happily.But I was exhausted. So tired, that even among strangers I fell asleep in the backseat of Linda's Volvo station wagon and didn't wake up until it was time to eat lunch and hit the trail. My face was hot and Frankensteined by the seat seams. I had drooled, my arm wedged against the door and my sweatshirt pulled up, baring my back, yet somehow I was sleepy enough not to care.We had lunch at the trailhead, squeezing peanut butter and honey from tubes onto bread and slicing up cheese and apples with the Swiss Army knives everyone carried. Everyoneexcept me. The air smelled of cedar and oak, and the trail was a tunnel of gold and green. I couldn't believe how lucky I was, how long it had been since I'd been in the woods, real woods. It was cool and sunny and a hawk screamed overhead. I sat on my pack and looked at all these people: Linda, who looked even kinder in the bright afternoon light with woods all around us; her husband, Alan, a biologist she'd met through the club; a Chinese man shaped like Popeye, Shing, who squeezed peanut butter from the tube onto his finger and skipped the bread; wiry Nicky; fair-haired Camilla, about my age; and Noah, who was beautiful, very tall and sinewy with short straight blond hair and pastel eyes that might be blue and might be green, depending on the light. His ears got red as he talked and ate.It felt very comfortable and chummy and safe at the trailhead. The comfortable part faded, though, as soon as we hit the trail up Mount Marcy. Sure, the leaves were blushing and the creek sang softly beside us. Yes, the air was clean and Linda's happy voice burbled along at the head of the group. But my feet hurt. My back hurt. The boots I'd dug out of my storage bin in the apartment eaves were old but stiff. I could feel the leather cutting into my skin, lacerating it with each step. The pack was hugely heavy. I had packed according to the list Linda gave me: socks (two pair per day), long underwear (preferably silk or polypropylene; I had mothball-stinky cotton), wool sweater, light shell, down vest, raincoat (I figured my dress coat would do, though it was rather bulky), sleeping bag, sleeping bag pad (Linda lent me an extra), flashlight, gloves, hat, fork and spoon, bowl, et cetera. I didn't have a down vest, so I'd borrowed Ben's massive down jacket. It made me look like a blueberry stuck on twig legs, but it was warm. I couldn't find a plastic bowl, so I'd packed one of my father's sturdy ceramic ones. I wasn'treally thinking about weight. I had added in a few extras: a little bit of hair gel since there wouldn't be showers, a cotton sweater that looked nicer than the old wool, a book for reading by the campfire. I'd forgotten, in packing, what the term backpack meant.So by the time we took a break for gorp and water, I was ready to quit. I'd been talking to myself along the steep stretch of trail we'd just finished, counting the rocks and then counting the steps and then telling myself that if I lived through this I would never do it again. I could quit nature completely, except for the occasional walk through the Public Gardens with lightweight sandals and a diaphanous dress, my arm in Ben's so he could help me keep my balance if a pebble disrupted my step. The ceramic bowl was denting my spine. My toes were numb, but that was a blessing, because the other parts of my feet were on fire. I had been watching the backs of Noah's boots, and I could tell he wasn't walking as fast as he could, that he was my designated baby-sitter, because everyone else was at least a mile ahead.He turned back to look at me, and I knew my face was plum from exertion. I tried to say something. It came out as a wheeze. "Um, is this what it's usually like?" I paused and leaned on my knee to slow my breath."Oh." Noah smiled. A quick smile. Beautiful, like the rest of him. Even kernel teeth. His eyes were in a green phase. I hated his ease. "Oh, well, every trip is different. It's sort of an adjustment at first, but it's really great."I grunted and put my head down again to count the rocks. The second time he looked back I think I grimaced, but neither of us said anything. I was sure he could hear my panting as I stopped, leaned on my knees, and faced the ground, thinking about how ugly rocks could look, likemassive insect eggs. About how autumn leaves were very lovely from the passenger seat of a car, but underfoot they were simply more stuff in the way of my boots.The gorp break was short. Actually, it was probably very long, but since Noah and I didn't catch up until half the M&Ms had been picked from Linda's and Nicky's bags, I guessed they'd been waiting awhile. I could feel all the eyes on me as I bent forward, leaning into the steep steps to make it up the last bit of trail, and half fell onto the rock where they were parked."Hey, kiddo," said Alan, "it's great to have you along. New blood." He was the one with the grayish hair and a beaky nose. He looked like my high school math teacher and I was afraid he was going to ask me to recite the quadratic formula."Thanks." I groaned.Noah moved around to the back of the group and started to stretch his long long legs. He didn't bother to take off his pack, which was the bright yellow and black of a bumblebee and looked like about as much bother to him as a wallet.Trying to shrug the great animal of my own pack off onto the rock, I slipped backward and lay on the trail, arms stuck in the straps and legs splayed, like an upside-down turtle. Camilla laughed. She had a musical laugh and pale blond hair and I was lying near her ankle, which I wanted to bite. I looked up at the silvery birch trunks and the sky. If I borrowed someone's keys and turned around now, I could be home by the middle of the night. I could take a shower and get Ben to administer first aid to my bloody feet and bruised shoulders. I could stand in the shower for an hour. I could sit in the shower for an hour. I could take a nap in the shower. I'd get out in time for breakfast."Let me help you with that," said Alan. He extricated me from the straps. Camilla rubbed my shoulders and Linda gave me gorp. I hated them all. 
The second half of the climb was better, because my feet and legs had grown numb. Also, the scenery changed as we climbed, moving from the tall maples into a thick zone of Christmas-tree heaven. We'd never had a Christmas tree--though only my mother was Jewish--because my father considered it a waste of a perfectly good tree.Noah was still with me. I followed his boots. I could tell he was waiting because his boots moved ahead, then paused. I was thinking maybe soon we'd take another break and I could fall down again and make a fool of myself in front of six strangers."I don't think I can go any farther," I said, to the backs of Noah's boots."Once," said Noah, as if he hadn't heard me, "I lost a pair of boots to a porcupine.""Uh?" I said, hoping to sound interested. Actually, I was interested. It was a distraction, imagining tall blond Noah in sock feet, wrestling with a porcupine."Before I knew better," he said. "I was in a lean-to, and I left my boots outside. Of course there was the usual nighttime scuffling, but I'd set up a bear bag so I wasn't worried about anything. In the morning, nothing but soles.""Bear bag?" I panted."You know, you hang the food in a bag between trees, so bears don't get it. If you keep it inside, you might find some furry company in your sleeping bag." His boots kept going. The pace was easier when I was listening."Why porcupines? And how did you know?""They like leather. Soles aren't too tasty. And they left evidence.""Little porcupine signatures in the dirt?""Well, probably there were tracks. But I meant scat."Of course."Break," said Noah. I hadn't even seen it coming or heard the chatter of the flock as they waited.After the break, Camilla and Nicky joined on as my baby-sitters. This was okay, because they liked to talk, and I didn't even have to waste breath answering, since they had each other. They gossiped. Gossip, when it involves people you don't know, is like listening to people speak another language."He's not such a peak-bagger, now that Vijay's gone," said Nicky. Nicky was sandy-haired, wiry, and slight. He had brown eyes and heavy brows, big feet, and peaked lips that made him look like someone's little boy. I might have found him charming if he wasn't so fast. He looked like he might accidentally burst into a run at any moment. He'd had time to pick out a walking stick and start whittling a curve in the top while we walked."Let's not," said Camilla, her voice low. I tripped and caught myself. Her voice brightened. "At least he packs good stuff sometimes, instead of the ubiquitous mac 'n' hack."Ubiquitous, I thought. I know that word. Not only was Camilla swift and beautiful, she was also a vocabulary queen. At least I knew mac 'n' hack was box macaroni and cheese--and I was not looking forward to eating it. I wondered if they would notice if I stopped. I sat down on a rock to wait for tomorrow."Hey," said Noah. "You found some wild raisin." He walked back to my resting place."Are you sure these are really edible?" Camilla pursed her lips at Noah. She gave his shoulder a light shove, as hescooped up some blackish berries, currant-sized and dry-looking. I wondered whether they were a couple. It was hard to tell in this group. Linda and Alan didn't touch each other any more than the others.She turned to me. "He has this thing for wild edibles. Most of the time he's right--when he has his guidebook." She took the berry he offered and crushed it between her teeth."Just because you gave it to me doesn't mean I always have to weigh down my pack," Noah said. Nicky tossed his berry in the air and caught it in his mouth."Here," Noah said, holding a single tiny berry out to me."Oh, thank you, I'm full."Camilla giggled. "Smart one," she said. "It tasted like bird poo."Then, sadly, we started up the trail again. 
By the time we reached the campsite, it was almost sunset. As we'd climbed, I'd collected a layer of sweat inside my clothes and a layer of cold on the outside. When we stopped, the cold sank in, so I felt chilled and soggy. The Adventurers' Club knew how to set up camp--when Noah, Camilla, Nicky, and I arrived, the first tent was already up, the stoves and pots out. As I sat down, Linda and Shing appeared at the top of a hill lugging a five-gallon plastic container of water and an armload of twigs."Only take what's fallen," said Shing. He smiled at me as I sat slumped against my pack, too tired to remove it as I froze to the ground."And if I were you, I'd get out some dry layers.""Oh, thanks," I said. I couldn't move. My body was congealing, a mass of ache and sweat and blister and ooze. I watched Noah and Camilla set up a tent; I'd be sleeping withthem. I could hardly imagine what this would be like. Would I be squashed in a corner? Probably not. They were nice. Too nice. Too fast, too strong, and too patient. I felt like a spoiled child."Hey, Hannah," said Nicky, at work on another tent. "Come help me with this."I knew he didn't need my help. He just wanted to make me feel useful."'K," I said. I shrugged off my pack and dug out the cotton sweater. I pulled the boots off my pulverized feet and walked over in socks. I held a pole while Nicky made expert work of the tent, tying the fly to two trees and driving stakes into the ground with his boot heel."You need more clothes," he said, and he took off the thick gray sweater he was wearing and pulled it down over my head. "Cotton isn't very warm."This seemed clear to me now. I remembered, a long time ago, my father saying, "Wool is warm when wet." The sweater was full of Nicky's heat, and it helped."But you'll freeze," I said."Nah, I'm toasty." He hugged his arms in their thin fleece shirt."Peak run," said Linda. "C'mon, Hannah, get your boots back on.""Excuse me?""You've got to see it," said Nicky. He put his hand on my back. "It's less than a mile, and we can be there for sunset."I pulled my sneakers out of the hateful pack and tugged them on."Coat," said Linda, smiling. I couldn't believe I was going to move again, ever. But they were all already on the trail, and if bears and porcupines were lurking around the campsite, I preferred not to meet them alone.We started to hike again, but this time I kept up with the group. My legs burned and I kept dropping Ben's big blueberry jacket, but as the trees thinned I could make out slashes of blue sky. And without the pack, I felt light, despite my muscles' ache."So, if you start a list, this is your first four-thousand-footer with the club," said Linda."Mount Marcy is five thousand three hundred and forty-four feet," said Alan. His nose was pink. "New York's tallest.""He's such a teacher," said Linda, grinning.The trees got shorter and shorter until they were miniature trees, like bonsai."Real alpine zone," said Alan.The sky opened into the sharp light of just-before-sunset. We were mostly walking on rock, now, and could see bands of orange and yellow forest down below.Camilla and Nicky started to jog."Show-offs," said Linda."Careful!" yelled Alan.They looked like goats, trotting along the rock. Strong, long legs, perfect balance--they were backlit. The light grew more intense, and the sky was a fantastic blue that even jellyfish can only dream. Then we'd caught up with them, standing in a circle of boulders slightly taller than us. Camilla pointed to a metal plate in the rock. USGS, it said. United States Geological Survey. This mountain had been counted. It felt, to me, as if we were the first ones there.I could see everything. It didn't erase the pain, but for that second I forgot that I wanted home and bed. The sunset, the roads cutting across the landscape like snakes, the bands of greens and golds."Come up here," said Noah. He was on top of a boulder,reaching his hand down. I took it. Sitting on the boulder, there was even more to see, the pink and orange expanse of sky and, below it, a wedge of blue lake. Mountains huddled all the way out to the horizon, hunched shadows of green and gray."Lake Champlain." Noah pointed at the lake.He wore a wool hat and gloves and he looked warm, and dry, as if he hadn't exerted himself all day. His thighs touched mine; I was almost in his lap, because there was no more room on the rock. I started to shiver, even in Nicky's sweater."And behind that, more Adirondacks. I've climbed most of them, even though they're not fancy four-Ks. And behind that, the Green Mountains. Vermont."The sky grew richer, as if it wanted to show us its full array of colors before shutting off for the night."Gotta get going," said Shing. He reached up and helped me off the rock.I put on Ben's jacket and continued shivering as we started back down the peak to the campsite. Camilla and Nicky moved ahead again."Start dinner," Shing yelled after them. I couldn't imagine anything more necessary, at that moment, than food. 
Camilla and Nicky worked their magic on the camp stoves and produced two great orange mounds of macaroni and cheese. Shing and Noah tossed the salad by throwing a garbage bag filled with torn iceberg lettuce and sliced cucumbers and carrots back and forth."Tossed," yelled Shing."Salad," answered Noah.I couldn't believe there'd been all this food in their packs, along with tents and stoves. I'd only carried my own stuff,and my back felt like I'd been the doormat at the public library for a week. I piled the food into my ceramic bowl and shivered by Alan's fire while I ate it. Box macaroni and cheese. It was delicious."Hey, you carried that?" Noah pointed at my bowl."Whoa, girl, what are you, in training?" Camilla laughed. She had two plastic cups and a pair of chopsticks."She's going gourmet on us," said Noah."Right," said Linda. "Mac 'n' hack gourmet.""When you're food planner, you can change the menu," said Camilla, waving a noodle in her chopsticks."I'm so beat," I said. Even speaking was an enormous effort. "Can I go to sleep?""Give me your bowl," said Noah. "I'll wash it out for you.""No," I said, "I can do it. What do I have to do?"He led me down to the stream, where I scrubbed out the cheese with leaves and water. Noah was quiet again. He had on and off moods, it seemed. Or maybe he was shy."Um, thanks for all your help," I said. I slipped and grabbed a tree branch behind him as we clambered back up."We all need help at first," said Noah. "Give me your toothpaste and anything else you've got that might smell. I'll put it in the bear bag." 
I fell asleep to the murmur of voices by the campfire. At first, I thought they might say something about me, so I tried to listen. But to get warm enough, I had to wear my hat and coat, get inside the sleeping bag, and pull it over my head. I put my dress coat on top of the sleeping bag, and didn't even hear Noah and Camilla come in. But I did hear them breathing, long, loud exhalations, when I woke up in the middle of the night wondering why Ben wasn't there and why I was so wet. I was sweating inside my bag, getting sticky and colder.I shivered. I wanted to go back to sleep and wake up to Ben's big arms, the smell of coffee and croissants in the warm oven. I pulled off the soggy down coat and started counting. But as the numbers passed all I could think of was yesterday's climb, and I realized I had to go back down every inch I'd gone up. Still, I finally fell asleep again, and when I woke up, a tree root under my head, there was green light coming in through the tent, and I smelled woods, the nylon of the tent, and some very bad breath that belonged to Camilla or Noah or else, quite possibly, to me.Copyright © 2002 by Gwendolen Gross

Meet the Author

Gwendolen Gross received an M. F. A. in poetry and fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of the novels Field Guide and Getting Out. She lives in northern New Jersey.

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Getting Out 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Gross' first novel FIELD GUIDE and was thrilled to see she had a new one out and about. Gross has created an absolute charmer about love, leaving and the great outdoors. Written in prose as clear as a mountain stream, and peopled with characters who'd make any wildnerness feel just like home. Can't wait to see what Gross does next.