When she'd walked into the room for their first meeting, she'd been struck by how small Charlotte was. She was a natural blonde, but her hair looked like straw. It was her one feature that actually looked better on television than in person. The toll of the long, nasty campaign was apparent on Charlotte's face. Her blue eyes looked gray, and the lines around her mouth that usually disappeared behind her campaign smile were deep. She was so thin that the black slacks and jacket she wore looked as if they belonged to someone else several sizes larger. She wore low heels that almost passed as sensible, but when she crossed her legs, Melanie noticed the red soles that gave away both the price tag and Charlotte's commitment to fashion.
Melanie hadn't wanted to like her enough to be tempted to say yes. She really hadn't wanted to like her at all. There was a cushy job waiting for her in Colorado with "nine to five" and "private jet" written all over it if she agreed to take President Martin up on his offer. There was nothing tying her to D.C. She could have easily flipped her condo to someone in the new administration?even in a down economy, people would be looking for places to live close to the White House. But something had nagged at her. She felt a sense of obligation at least to go through the motions and meet with the president-elect during the transition.
Melanie had been told that President-elect Kramer had made a special trip to Washington to meet with her.
"Please call me Charlotte," she'd said. "It took me two years to get used to 'governor,' and now all this 'president-elect,' and then 'Madam President,' who can keep track of it? Call me Charlotte?I insist," she'd said.
She was smart and funny and self-deprecating. She'd seemed to have been handed a briefing paper so detailed about Melanie's career that Melanie wondered if the FBI had been involved. After some small talk about the current unusually cold temperatures for Washington, Charlotte had told Melanie that she'd seen her on the Today show years earlier and that she had admired and tried to emulate her cheerful toughness in her own television appearances. She'd praised Melanie's decision to have the president do weekly press conferences in media markets around the country instead of from the White House. She'd said she agreed with the outgoing president's decision not to campaign on her behalf because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which she must have known had been Melanie's advice to the president.
Melanie's defenses had been down. She was feeling more and more flattered by the minute. And the idea of being the highest-ranking staff person for the first female president in America's history did capture her imagination. Despite the fact that in the recesses of her mind, she understood that it was all part of an elaborate scheme to entice her, she'd said yes on the spot to serving as chief of staff to the nation's forty-fifth president.
That was three years ago. Melanie fingered the smooth gold chain around her neck and stared at the reflection that the diamonds made on the wall of the Oval Office.
"If you're still in there, Melanie, you're welcome," the president said, waving her hand in front of Melanie's face. "I'll see you tonight. We need to talk about the campaign. I'm sorry I'm missing your party, but at least I'm taking Ralph off your hands."
"Party? What party?" Melanie groaned.