Dr. Cherise Owens stood by her office window and surveyed the quad. It was a beautiful spring day. Violet irises bloomed in flower beds next to opening yellow and red tulips. The sweet aroma of freshly mowed grass drifted through the partially open casement. She inhaled deeply and hoped the light breeze would carry her through the busy day ahead. She would be interviewing new professors for one open position in the Sociology Department. Rats. She’d have to sit through a lunch with Department Chair candidate Dr. Jack Strand; the author of that awful book, When Adam was a Man.
“Dr. Owens,” her secretary said as she stuck her head into the University President’s office. “It’s 11:45. You wanted to walk over to the Oak Room.”
“Love the Oak Room. Dread this lunch,” Cherise moaned as she collected her keys and small cross-body purse.
“I know,” Dee Dee sympathized. “Focus on the food and less on the fool.”
“Dee Dee, you’re not calling our esteemed colleague and candidate for a faculty position, Dr. Jack Strand, a fool are you?”
“Me?” the secretary denied with her hand to her chest. “Never.”
“But, if you were,” the President smiled coyly, “I would agree.”
Cherise walked out the door and turned her chin upward, bathing her face in sunlight. It could not have been a more glorious day. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk, prompting a desire to dance, but she resisted the temptation. Strong willed, she never gave into silly immature thoughts that crossed her mind. Still, she was dancing in her head as she arrived at the University Restaurant door, side-stepping in rhythm to her internal music, and went in.
Alfred Newday, the Dean of Students, waved from a white cloth-covered table to the left. Alfred stood, pulling out the chair beside him. Cherise would sit next to a man who looked like the image on his book jacket. She was disappointed when she saw he was even more handsome than his picture. Rats. As Cherise got to the table, Jack Strand stood up.
Facing eye to eye, she came into contact with warmth that set her toes on fire. She couldn’t hide her attraction to him and more’s the pity, Dr. Strand noticed and smiled.
“You must be Jack Strand,” she said as she tried to play it lightly.
“Since no one else wanted the part, then, yes I must be he,” Strand continued to smile like a cat that just trapped the house mouse.
“A sense of humor,” she declared to the other three at the table. Besides the Dean, two professors from the Sociology Department joined them for lunch. “Humor will please the students.”
“Then . . . I’m hired?” Strand asked, still smiling, still teasing.
Assistant Professor Scrimshire looked at Strand with surprise. “Well then, if no one cares, I’d like to eat before we adjourn.”
“We’re not in that much of a hurry,” Dr. Owens announced with her hand held up to slow down the meeting.
“Would you like the usual Tuesday special?” the server asked the President.
Cherise looked up at the waitress and avoided Strand. “Yes, that’s fine. Thanks.”
Scrimshire and the other professor ordered the chicken salad plate; the Dean chose a spinach and ham quiche. Strand looked around the table and ordered BBQ pork with mashed potatoes and fresh corn.
As the waitress stepped away, Strand mused aloud, “Ah, another one who needs to control life. I’ll bet Mr. Cherise Owens has a hard time with that.”
“You have a dangerous interview style for someone applying for a job at an institution where people actually think before they speak,” Owens responded politely yet firmly.
Scrimshire glared. “Bob Owens died three years ago, from complications following his injuries at the Boston Marathon bombing. He was an accomplished runner.”
“I am so sorry,” Jack said, touching Cherise’s hand as it rested on the table. “Sometimes I forget and actually believe my reputation.”
“The young men who take your class need a strong male figure here at the university. That’s why we’re interviewing you,” Dr. Owens explained, still unable to look at Strand without exposing her attraction to him.
“Ah yes, the wussification of American men.”
“I happen to agree with you, Dr. Strand,” Dr. Owens agreed. “My husband was a real man. He was strong enough to stand in the gap between our home and the world, and gentle enough to make me feel loved every day of our marriage.”
“And, you miss that,” Jack whispered as the server brought a pot of coffee to the table. “Cherise means darling.”
Cherise didn’t respond. However, the warmth of his understanding filled her with a revived joy. “Have you never heard of sexual harassment, Dr. Strand?” she whispered back. As she poured coffee into her cup, she continued, including everyone in the conversation. “I think this committee wants to know something far more current than if Adam was a man or a wimp. Some young men know only two extremes – sissy and control freak. What do you have to add to their edification so they can hit a happy medium?”
Jack Strand sat back and grinned as the server placed a plate filled with BBQ pork and a mound of white potatoes in front of Cherise Owens. “You’re my kind of girl,” he said. “You appreciate real food.”
The sweet tangy smell of the BBQ sauce rose like a cloud over the table. When the server put Strand’s order down, Cherise smiled but chose to avert his eyes. “I guess you can make a few wise choices after all.”
“That’s fine,” the Dean added. “But, I’d still like an answer to Dr. Owens’ question.”
“What question is that?” Strand asked with a blank expression.
Cherise turned and looked Strand square in the eyes. “If you were hired as Chair of the Sociology Department, what would you teach your students, especially the young men, about being strong and yet not controlling?”
Jack Strand focused his gaze on Cherise, as if there were no others at the table. “I would teach them to be in control of themselves and not dominate others. They would learn that it’s the greatest joy to encourage others to be the very best ‘them’ they can be. They would know that control and love are mutually exclusive. One cannot control another and love them at the same time. True love is the only goal in life worth pursuing and when one finds it, it will define their life. That is the meaning of being a real man.”
Cherise groaned inside. “I fear we may have some challenging faculty meetings in the next few years . . . if we hire you, Dr. Strand.”
“But, they would be the most exciting meetings of your career,” Jack said as their eyes met.
Rats! She whispered.