Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sunday's Short Stack(Saturday Edition): When We Picked Apples Last Autumn by Hank Fielder

At twenty-eight, Josh Adams has more than a few secrets and personal demons. He’s an international traveler and doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready for the serious attention handsome and heroic airline pilot Benny Mills is ready to pay him. Their shared near-death experience seems to clarify everything for Benny, who wants nothing more than to share his stunning home in an idyllic Wisconsin apple orchard with Josh.

Benny offers commitment and a contented life of peaceful, loving comradeship far from the high-flying hazards of foreign travel. But for sexy love-’em-and-leave-’em-hot Josh, only another life-and-death adventure can convince him that the smoking heat of their mutual attraction is destined to be more than a hit-and-run entertainment.

With time running out, finding refuge from his increasingly dangerous world just might be what Josh needs after all. Especially when his and Benny’s very lives depend on it.

Once again, I found myself reading a new author with all the usual anticipation and questions that come with it and once again I was not disappointed.  Hank Fielder puts a lot of detail, drama, and fun into a short little package.  When We Picked Apples Last Autumn may be short on pages but definitely manages to throw a curveball or two within its covers.

Josh and Benny are both lovable characters that touched my heart.  You want them to find that HEA but you also know that they have to find it on their own terms, even if you want to knock some sense into them, well mostly just Josh, they have to do the work because we're just along for the ride.  What a lovely ride it is too.  Like I said it may be short on pages but it is not lacking in entertainment and the "didn't see that coming" moment is like getting two scoops of ice cream with your pie when you only paid for one, a delicious treat.


WHEN did you first know you loved him?

I ask myself that sometimes. Was it the night we first met, when we were both in danger of losing more than just our hearts?

That was last October. And that was some night. Lightning flashed outside my window and the 747 banked steeply in the wind. As the cabin lights flickered and thunder crashed all around us, an Asian woman across the aisle from me screamed. An overhead compartment popped open and a heavy, hard-case carry-on began a slow slide down toward a sleeping toddler. In an instant I was up out of my seat and diving over two terrified passengers. I caught the heavy case in midfall, inches from the child’s head.

“Sir, please return to your seat!”

I turned to see the angry frown of the blonde flight attendant. She stalked down the long aisle toward me in the flashing light of the storm, her face drained of blood. The aircraft lurched again and passengers gasped as cabin lights flickered. The mother of the toddler I’d just saved—a pretty young Asian woman—grabbed my arm. I turned to her and said slowly and smoothly, in the calmest voice I could muster, “Everything is going to be fine. The pilot knows what he’s doing.”

I was far from certain about that, but she seemed to understand me, or at least she understood the deep, calming comfort I tried to convey. I was speaking in the same highly trained and relaxed tones our pilot had been using over the aircraft PA ever since we flew into this sudden storm. I’d never seen his face, but I sure knew that cool speaking style. Tough-guy pilots all over the world used it to instill confidence. I knew I had something of the same convincing way about me. I was over six feet tall, with the kind of athletic air and looks I liked to think people tended to trust. I’d been making the most of them for the best of my twenty-eight years.

If what I used to consider self-confidence comes off to you as simple arrogance, I won’t disagree with that assessment. I was a selfish, privileged, secretive, and sometimes not-very-nice guy who was due for a comeuppance.

My life was about to change. I just didn’t know it yet.

The flight attendant touched my arm, then squeezed my muscle as if seeking her own comfort. She was shaking. “That was an impressive catch,” she said nervously, the hardness in her eyes softening. “You probably saved the child’s life. But please go back to your seat, and when we land at HCMC Airport, I’ll put your name in for a passenger commendation.”

“Josh Adams is the name. Shall I spell it?” I didn’t play on her team and she didn’t play on mine, but flirting came naturally to me, regardless of the circumstances.

Her smile vanished as the plane rocked hard to the left and the jet engine whined like a very large, hurt animal.

I’d been on some terrifying, roller-coaster flights before, a long, long way from home. But nothing topped this wicked storm over Southeast Asia. Twenty-eight is too young to die on a mundane business trip to Vietnam, I told myself, longing for my little apartment in Chicago’s Boystown. But a job was a job, and I knew I was fortunate to be employed in tough times.

An hour earlier I’d been putting myself to sleep tracking Polaris on my game-loaded tablet. Then, when I’d tired of that, I read a long and dubious article about the government’s latest strategies in counter-terrorism—not exactly peachy in-flight entertainment. Not that I needed any reminders about the hazards of foreign travel. When the weather grew rough, I turned to a well-thumbed Louis L’Amour western and thought about a guy I’d fooled around with in Rome the previous week. Like so many of my conquests, his name was already forgotten. Note to self: If you live through this flight and actually make it to Ho Chi Minh City, stop being so shallow.

After the copilot made some announcements in Vietnamese, the American captain’s voice came over the PA again. Soft, assured, deep, and manly. “Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened. We’re in our final approach to SGN Ho Chi Minh City, and I’m sure you’ve gathered there’s a heck of a thunderstorm out there. For those of you familiar with the winter monsoon storm systems in this region, diversions to other airfields are common enough this time of year. Unfortunately we have a completely full flight and insufficient fuel to divert. We are cleared for landing as scheduled. Expect a few bumps before we get you safely on the ground.”

In short, we were going in. No other choice.

I heard a few more gasps. I wanted to believe in this pilot. I so wanted to believe in him, but my heart was pounding hard. I was scared.

“Be prepared to follow instructions during and after landing,” he said coolly. “Flight attendants, cross-check and prepare for landing.”

As the crash position we were instructed to assume was explained in several languages, a blinding streak of pink lighting crashed on the left side of the aircraft. Blinking, I saw flames shoot from the engine. Thunder rumbled through the cabin, rattling everything—especially the passengers. Rain lashed the windows.

Seated next to me, a slim woman with a taut young face and old knobby hands closed her eyes and grasped her rosary beads.

We dropped with a stomach-turning lurch. The engines whined again, including the smoking one, as we picked up speed. The craft yawed from side to side. I took a slow breath through my nostrils. I couldn’t help looking up and out the window. Lightning flashed, and below us, I saw car headlights and red taillights, a stretch of highway, then the misty lights of a landing strip. In another flash I saw the red spinning lights of emergency vehicles lining the rain-slick, skid-marked runway. They were shooting foam over the tarmac. We were close to the ground, wind buffeted, a wing dipping precariously toward the concrete.

We crossed over an ugly chain-link fence, clearing it by inches. This was it. I could almost feel the weight of every pound of steel around us as the wheels struck the earth, sending a jarring shockwave up through the fuselage. My butt and back pressed deeper into the cushioned seat as we hurtled forward, arcs of rain splashing in our wake. I heard the reverse-thrust of the engines, an angry roar. It seemed we would never slow down, that we were tearing at the fabric of a gravitational force.

But against all odds, we slowed, and sweat broke out over my brow. I took a deep, grateful breath.

We made it. We were safe. There was a smattering of applause. Timid smiles. Life would go on. We were earthbound once more.

“Please remain in your seats until the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign,” said a female flight attendant, first in Vietnamese, then in English, then in Mandarin.

Author Bio:
Hank Fielder is from Wisconsin and has lived in London and California, in big cities, and in the rural countryside. A passionate devotee of soulful romantic music, art, baseball, and good stories, he has worked a variety of jobs. He counts his blessings every night before bed.



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