"Oh, shut up, and stop with the bowing," the president said, stifling a smile. She rose from her desk and walked over to one of the sofas. A fire burned in her fireplace. "This fire is a little much, don't you think?" she said.
"It's a little more robust than the one they lit in my fireplace," Melanie said.
"Looks like a goddamn bonfire," the president said, gesturing toward the sofa across from her for Melanie to sit. Melanie laughed and sat down, relieved that Charlotte's dark mood had passed. The president needed to be "on" for the trip to Detroit. Half a dozen small-business owners and a handful of members of Congress were flying on Air Force One with her for the speech, and if Charlotte were brooding the whole time, the trip would be a waste.
"Sam?will you please bring Melanie's present in here?" Charlotte yelled. "And two cups of coffee with cream." She turned to Melanie and broke into a full smile for the first time that morning. "Happy birthday, smart-ass," Charlotte said.
"Oh, God, no presents, please. I'm trying to go to a happy place in my mind?a place where I'm not thirty-seven years old, single, childless, and working steps away from the office where I sat when I was twenty-three years old," Melanie said, sinking into the couch and looking up at the ceiling.
"Oh, your life is so awful. You're just the White House chief of staff, that's all. What an underachiever you are. Open your present," Charlotte said, smirking and pushing the gift toward Melanie. She let the speech scatter on the carpet beneath them.
Melanie picked up the carefully wrapped box. As she slowly untied the bow and removed the tape from the wrapping paper, Charlotte grew impatient.
"Hurry up, the speechwriters will be here soon," the president said, grabbing the box from Melanie and removing the wrapping paper herself.
Melanie stared at the black Bulgari box and said softly, "Charlotte, what did you do?"
"You've been so depressed lately, I thought you needed to be cheered up," Charlotte said. "Open it, already. This Hallmark moment has gone on too long."
Melanie stood up to give her a hug.
"Open it first," Charlotte squawked, pushing Melanie aside. "I have to go to Detroit in this damned blizzard to console the inconsolable about the crappy economy in a few minutes."
Inside was a thin white-gold chain dotted with diamonds?the most tasteful and beautiful thing Melanie had ever seen and, by a factor of one million, the most elegant piece of jewelry she owned.
"Thank you so much. I love it," Melanie said, sliding it over her head and admiring the way the long chain sparked against her black silk blouse.
She knew she was lucky to work for Charlotte, and it almost hadn't happened. She had been planning to move back to Colorado with Charlotte's predecessor, President Martin, to head up his presidential library. But then she'd agreed to meet with Charlotte two weeks after she'd won the election.