"Thank you so much. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve this president alongside all of you. Thank you for this great surprise. I don't know what to say, other than thank you, from the bottom of my heart."
She stayed and thanked everyone for coming and asked the stewards to bring the leftover cake to the residence. She and Charlotte would eat it for dessert.
Fifteen years, three presidents, and seven executive assistants later, Melanie thought to herself as she walked back to her office. "And all I've done is move forty feet."
Around eight p.m., Melanie heard the sound of Marine One as it neared the South Lawn. She loaded her BlackBerrys and phones into her purse and walked down the hall toward the residence where she and Charlotte would have dinner. Charlotte had been bugging her for an answer about running her reelection campaign for weeks.
As the chopper came closer, her mind flashed back to her first ride on Marine One. It fell on her twenty-sixth birthday, and she had been nervous and excited about joining the elite group of top staffers who rode on the presidential helicopter instead of driving the short distance to Andrews Air Force Base. They'd been traveling to Detroit that day to talk about the economy, and President Martin's poll numbers were almost as battered as Charlotte's. More than a decade later, Melanie still remembered how her stomach had churned and the sweat from her underarms had soaked her blouse that day. She had heard the sound of the helicopter as it neared the South Lawn, and she'd raced down the hall to the Oval Office. President Martin had looked at her, clearly enjoying her anticipation.
"You ready?" he'd asked.
"I'm ready," she'd said with a grin.
He'd flung his arm around her and walked out to the South Lawn, where the helicopter was parked. He'd waved to the cameras and the crowds and mouthed "Thank you" to the friends and staffers who had gathered to see him off. Melanie had walked on her toes to keep her heels from getting stuck in the muddy grass, but it wasn't enough. She lost one of her Stuart Weitzman pumps in the mud and was too afraid to stop and pick it up with the cameras rolling. She'd boarded Marine One and taken a seat across from the president.
"You sit here?you won't bump into me the way these thugs would," President Martin had ordered, referring to the male staffers who would bump into his knees if they sat in the seat across from him.
"Yes, sir," Melanie had agreed as she sat across from the president and peered out the window of the helicopter. Melanie had no idea what to do about her shoe. She hoped that no one would notice. She'd send someone to buy her a new pair in Detroit. Ernie Upshaw, President Martin's deputy chief of staff, noticed her bare muddy foot first.
"Where is your shoe, Melanie?" he'd asked.
"Uh, it fell off."
"Where?" the president had asked.
"Somewhere between the Oval Office and the helicopter," she'd admitted, her cheeks and neck turning hot.
The president had howled with laughter and sent Buckey, his personal aide, out to find her missing shoe. The shoe was wedged so deep in the mud that it took Buckey about five minutes to find it. The helicopter pilots had eventually powered down Marine One, and all three of the cable news networks had carried the shoe hunt live.
Melanie's BlackBerry had filled with new messages.
Her assistant: "They aren't looking for your shoe, are they?"