"I told them you'd hate it, but as usual, nobody listened to me. Act surprised. Sam and Annie have been working on it for weeks." The president turned back to her desk. "Sam, please tell the speechwriters to get on the helicopter. We have to write a new speech."
Melanie turned to leave and smiled sympathetically at the speechwriters who were huddled in front of Samantha's desk.
"Good luck, guys," Melanie said. "I'll throw Ralph under the bus later. She's just being melodramatic. Roll with it."
Melanie endured the senior staff singing "Happy Birthday" to her at their seven-thirty meeting. She took calls from most of the Cabinet members, wishing her a happy birthday and from many of the reporters she'd known from her eight years as press secretary for the previous president. Her parents sent a dozen white roses mixed with white tulips, her favorite flowers. But nothing could have prepared her for her own reaction to the slide show that the White House staff assembled to pay tribute to her fifteen years of service.
Thank God the lights were dimmed and the music blaring. Against a soundtrack of depressing spinster ballads from Natalie Merchant and Tori Amos, the images flooded the room. There she was at twentythree?in the group photo of all the White House interns?smiling and oblivious to the three chins she'd had in those days. President Phil Harlow was the first president Melanie had worked for. She'd lied about being a student to get the internship, since the White House intern program was only available to college students earning credit for their free labor. When a spot opened up for a junior press aide, she'd confessed about graduating the year before, and they'd given her the job. She spent nearly three years in the same cramped fourth-floor office in the Old Executive Office Building, across the driveway from the West Wing.
The next images were from her days as a campaign aide to President Harlow's nephew, Christopher Martin. He'd surprised everyone when he announced a run for the presidential nomination during President Harlow's last year in office. Melanie had signed on as his campaign press secretary. Everyone was shocked when he won the nomination and, eventually, the presidency. President Martin made Melanie his first press secretary, and at twenty-six, she'd been the youngest White House press secretary in history. The pictures of Melanie as President Martin's press secretary made her cringe. Fortunately, her clothes, hair, and figure improved with age. There were pictures of her sleeping with her mouth wide open on Air Force One, plenty of shots of her fielding questions from the podium in the White House briefing room, and images she recognized as having been Photoshopped to remove all evidence of Matthew, her husband for a brief period during the Martin administration.
Photos of Melanie as Charlotte's chief of staff made up the last and longest part of the slide show. She'd been around the photographers so long that she didn't notice them anymore, but there she was: speaking to Charlotte as they walked across the South Lawn to board Marine One, being summoned by Charlotte as she stepped off Air Force One, whispering in her ear in meetings with foreign leaders, hiking with her at Camp David with the dogs, and laughing with her in the Oval Office over one of their many inside jokes.
Melanie stood and applauded when the slide show finally came to an end.