Claudia Stilinski met Melissa McCall and Ellen Martin at a Lamaze class in 1994. Her husband had been hired as a Deputy at the Beacon County Police Department, and she'd been trying to find ways to occupy her time while she "baked a bun" in her so-called "oven" and tried to find a job. Melissa had trained to be a nurse during her stint at university, and her husband, an FBI Analyst, had been stationed in Sacramento, so she'd proposed they move back to their hometown, and her husband had agreed; she now taught Lamaze at Beacon Hills Memorial. Ellen Martin was had grown up in town, she'd married a rich business man at the age of 16. Ellen had been most surprised when one of her cousins had run off with an older man; Ellen herself had married a man much older than her at the age of 16 and she'd never been berated for it. Ellen had confided in Claudia during one of their 'Girls Night Out's that the Hales believed in true love, and that true love was worth fighting for. She'd told Claudia that even though she'd cut herself off from them, Ellen knew that family meant everything to them, and that they'd often stop by to talk even though Ellen kept them at arms length. Claudia held all of Ellen's deepest fears about motherhood -- her fear that she'd alienate her child because of the distance she'd created between herself and her family, her fear that she'd be the kind of mother her mother had been -- cold and distant. Claudia never found out why Ellen didn't acknowledge her family, especially when she spoke about their relationships with such a high regard.
In the time that Claudia had known Melissa McCall, she'd learned a lot of things about her. She'd learned that Melissa had the biggest heart she'd ever seen, and that even if it was illegal, Melissa would do what she thought was the right thing to do. The night her son was born, Melissa was conspicuously absent from her promised role as Claudia's maternity nurse, and continued to be absent for most of the remainder of the week that Claudia healed from her stitches. When Melissa showed up on her doorstep at midnight on a Saturday night carrying a baby, Claudia didn't even bat an eyelid.
"I did a thing, Claudia." Melissa says, eyes wide and frantic. The baby snuffles against her chest and Melissa cradles it tighter, swinging in a soft arc.
"I can see that." Claudia folds her arms across her chest.
"What?" Claudia's eyes widen at that.
"No. No. It's not what you're thinking." Melissa says, eyes widening further. Her voice is high-pitched and loud, and it hurts Claudia's ears but she listens calmly. "His mom died in child birth. Actually she was dead when she was carried into my backyard, I barely got him out in time. And by the time the girl's family came to me, the baby, it was the strangest thing ever, they said it had already bonded to me. They think he's better off with me."
"What do they want in exchange?" Claudia's eyes narrow suspiciously. She knows how much Melissa wants a child, knows how much the three miscarriages she's had have left her feeling powerless.
"Nothing. They drew up a contract. Since the mother didn't come in legally. They'll list me as the mother on the birth certificate. I'll be a mother, Claudia. They said they'll work everything up. Their only condition is that Scott gets to meet them, know them and spend time with them. Even if it is just as a friend." The hope in Melissa's eyes breaks Claudia's heart.
"You named him? Melissa, the town knows you haven't been pregnant. They know you can't have had a child." She knows she's failing at keeping the pity out of her voice.
"They'll forget over time." Melissa's jaw has tightened into a determined line.
"I can't talk you out of this, can I?" Claudia shakes her head, leaning against the doorjamb.
"Does Rafael know?"
"Yes. And he knows that this baby is more important to me than anything else in the world. Claudia I'm going to do this. I just need to know whether or not you're on my side!"
"At least let me look at the contract, then." Claudia had graduated magna cum laude with her pre-law degree, and she had been accepted into the Law program in Stanford when she'd gotten pregnant, and subsequently hitched.
Melissa let's out a huge breath of relief and Claudia can see the way the tension drains out of her. Melissa places Scott in Claudia's baby's crib, and the two boys automatically shuffle their swaddled little bodies closer, smacking their lips sleepily. Melissa starts a pot of tea and Claudia sits at the kitchen island, glasses sitting low on her nose as she reads through it. Claudia is glad her husband is on night-shift and that her son has been a very quiet baby. It is mostly a standard non-disclosure agreement, with a clause that talks about visitation and the child being told the truth, eventually.
"The Hales?" Claudia folds her glasses and sets them down in front of her.
"Uh. You weren't supposed to know that." Melissa looks at her sheepishly.
"I'm acting as your lawyer. I think I'm allowed." Claudia scoffs. "Besides, if I'm going to help you cover it up, I think I'm allowed to know the details. Anyways, this looks fairly standard. I don't see any loopholes." As soon as Claudia's says it, Melissa grabs her pen and signs the documents, handing the pen to Claudia so that she can sign as Melissa's witness.
Later when Melissa's got Scott cradled close and she's head out the door, she asks, "I'm doing the right thing, right?"
Claudia doesn't know how to answer that without hurting her best-friend's feelings, so she just nods her head, unable to look her friend in the eyes.
Melissa was right. The town is suspicious for all of a week, and then everything goes back to normal. Even Claudia's husband doesn't question the fact that the McCalls have a kid and they weren't even pregnant, and he's the most observant person she knows. There are times when even she forgets, and she swears she can remember Melissa's swollen belly and the feel of Scott kicking against the supple skin of her abdomen.
Scott is the healthiest baby she's ever seen, well... so is Lydia Martin. They are fussy about food, and they cry as soon as they soil their diapers, but they have never hurt themselves or gotten sick. Stiles on the other hand is colic-y after the first month, and he's had three fevers in the first four months that stressed Claudia out to the point that she almost made her husband cry.
She spends a lot of time with Melissa, Scott and Lydia. Ellen suffers from postpartum depression and Calvin, her husband, has been struggling to deal with her and his job. Lydia spends more nights with the Stilinskis and McCalls than she does at her own house. Claudia tries to help and Melissa refers Ellen to a therapist, but nothing seems to work. The funny thing is that Ellen doesn't seem to have PPD. She doesn't have any symptoms other than the fact that she refuses to acknowledge Lydia's presence. She doesn't hear Lydia cry or laugh or react when Lydia smacks her sticky hands against Ellen's arms. There are days when Claudia wants to call Talia Hale, and have her smack some sense into Ellen, but she doesn't know the Hales and Martins' history, and it feels like overstepping.
One night, Lydia is with Claudia and she won't stop crying no matter what Claudia does. She's never been colic-y so Claudia isn't quite sure that is what it is, but Melissa is at the hospital and she feels a little worn thin. She calls the only person she can think of, Talia Hale. Talia is a strong, intimidating woman. She is tall and regal, and when she walks in, it's like a hurricane's landed. As soon as her gaze narrows in on Lydia, it's like Lydia's flipped a switch. She's never seen the little girl settle down so quickly with a stranger.
"Oh baby girl!" Talia bends to lift Lydia out of her crib, and Claudia moves to grab Stiles who is sniffling pathetically now that Lydia's shrieking has stopped.
"Is she okay?"
"She is okay, yes she is." Talia says, talking in baby voices and cooing at the Lydia. She looks up at Claudia then. "Thank you."
"Uh -- I'm still not sure this is a good idea. I don't know why Elle- ... but Lydia is a baby and since Ellen isn't around she doesn't really get a say. Do you know what was wrong?"
"I can guess, but I'm hoping I'm wrong." Talia says, cryptically. "This little angel, however, needs family and while you, Stiles and Melissa are good substitutes, she needs Ellen and more of my pa-family."
"Maybe I can bring Stiles and her along to join Scott and his weekly play dates with Carlos." Claudia suggests, and Talia smiles at her softly.
"That would be wonderful."
Ellen comes out of her funk seven weeks and four days after Claudia's meeting with Talia. She is livid when she finds out, but doesn't do anything to stop them for taking Lydia over to the Hales' the next week. It's like she's thrice as overbearing now that she's realized Lydia exists and that she's ignored her daughter for almost eight months. Melissa finally manages to get Ellen to agree to seeing a counselor, and things start to get better.
Claudia hasn't been able to find a job yet, but she's started catering birthday parties after the food for Stiles' and Scott's six month birthday party was a huge hit. People want her recipes, but she smiles at them as says she'd be happy to cook for them but the recipes are an old family secret. It isn't a lie, in fact, the recipes are the only thing she has of her maternal grandmother, the woman who raised her. Between Melissa's baked goods and milkshakes that are to die for, and Claudia's Meat and Vegetable Seasonings, the two of them spend more weekends cooking food than they do trying to find a job (in Claudia's case) and working to become head nurse (in Melissa's case). The business plan is Ellen's idea. She may not have gone to college or even graduated high-school, but Ellen is a bit of a business savant. She has the uncanny ability to have brilliant ideas that can turn a profit and pick apart horrible ideas. She's the one who comes up with the brilliant theme for the diner. Ellen gets Calvin to finance the Diner, and when they're almost ready to open, she's the one who suggest they wait a week and have their grand opening coincide with WereCon. Claudia could have sworn Ellen planned the whole thing and timed it beautifully.
In the days leading up to the grand opening, they set up a playpen in a corner of the Diner and surprisingly enough, Scott, Lydia and Stiles are not the only ones who play there. They hire a few of the local ladies who they feel could use a little help; and the three of them come with their own little bundles of joy. Kalea Mahealani is a master chef, Claudia wishes she could do the things that Kalea can do with meat. Yes, Claudia's good at flavors, but the tenderness of the meat Kalea prepares is just beautiful.
Greta Reyes, a loud-mouthed recent widow with an epileptic daughter, is the one who comes up with the idea of the themed uniforms. She'd gone to Art School and majored in Costume Design before she met her husband who was in ROTC. He died in Iraq fighting someone else's battle and Greta promised herself she'd never let herself be swayed by someone else's ideas about life and living. She studied Costume Design, has an amazing sense of fashion, graduated with honors, but she chooses to dress like 'trailer trash' (her words), because it makes her feels confident and in control, "fuck anyone who thinks otherwise". She comes into work, one day, in one of her creations -- a hybrid Little Red/Big Bad Wolf costume that makes Ellen howl with laughter because it is brilliant and perfect for the Diner.
Desiree Boyd is quite and soft, but when she takes charge, it is like a force to be reckoned with. She is an amazing planner, and she has sections for wait-staff (currently for three), optimized routes for delivery of food, and a whole array of things that the other ladies had never even thought to have, planned out by the first evening she's there. She never graduated high school, but the women don't doubt that given the chance she would have been an academic prodigy. Her husband is a hard worker and he loves his family, but they have five children and it is a struggle everyday, especially with her oldest son looking to head to college in a couple of years. One day, she brings her oldest son with her to work and asks Melissa if he could work there too, and Greta outfits him as the big bad wolf; because it was never really a question anyways. It's then that they realize that the Little Red Riding Hood theme can be taken a little further, and they start putting up flyers looking for more wait-staff.
The day before opening night, the ladies are sitting at the counter prepping for opening day (they have free samples and half price drinks, the whole works) when Ellen brings eight-month pregnant Alice Lahey in. She's small and frail, and she jumps every time there is a loud noise. If its meant to be a secret that Ellen met her at the women's shelter in Mount Shasta, nobody mentions it. Alice had been a chef at a fancy restaurant in New York before her husband had taken a job in Texas when she was pregnant with their first child. She'd had no choice but to move with her maternity leave about to start and all her money going into their joint account that he'd been draining for alcohol. They try not to pity her and the bruises that are fading to a sickly greenish-yellow. There is determination in the jut of her chin and even though she hasn't said a word, they like her already.
Alice is assigned as Kalea's sous-chef even though she has a panic attack when the ground beef sizzles when Kalea drops it onto the griddle and locks herself in the store room. Surprisingly, it is Greta that manages to coax her out, and Alice cries a little feeling pathetic and weak, it's how the ladies know that this will be a good thing for her. Alice stays with Melissa because Rafael's been in Sacramento for five weeks at a stretch now (he usually comes home for the weekend but he's been working overtime because he's so close to getting promoted), and she gets lonely sometimes. The fact that Melissa misses being a nurse doesn't hurt, she'll get to take care of Alice, her unborn child and the rambunctious Camden, Alice's four year old.
With Alice, Kalea, Greta, and Desiree, Granny's starts to feel like home.