The chapter that follows is an excerpt from Book I: Roy & Tracy.  Our main characters are having their first "date" together.

Dinner at Marty’s

August 1967

The midsummer Chicago heat felt oppressive.  Tracy was glad that the walk from The Thread Bear to Marty’s Diner was a short one.  He was already beginning to pant when he and his companion reached the tiny eatery.  Roy held the door for the coyote, as he had done so at the car when they first met.  Tracy was used to seeing his dad do that for his mom, but it seemed a little odd that the bear would do that for him.  Maybe it was just Roy's way of being polite.  Tracy looked back at Roy as the bear followed him inside, but his expression gave no clue.

The air conditioned interior of the diner felt comfortingly cool and the tile of the floor was a blessing under the canine's hot footpads.  Roy led his companion around a sign which read, “Please Seat Yourself” and toward an empty table in the far corner.  The seating area was small, but the dinner crowd was already gone leaving only a small handful of customers.  The coyote sniffed the welcoming aromas of home-cooked food and watched as a rhino pirouetted in the kitchen that seemed too small to contain her.  She deposited a plate of food in the window and tapped the small bell to summon the waitress.  Then, in an easy motion, she scooped up a spatula and turned her attention back to the griddle.

“How’s this?” asked Roy as he settled himself onto a chair with gleaming chrome legs and a red vinyl seat cushion.

Tracy sat across from him, running his paws over the smooth formica tabletop, red with boomerang shaped patterns outlined in white and gray.  “It’s fine,” he smiled then found himself inexplicably at a loss for words.  “Smells great in here!” he said in a rush.

To Tracy’s relief, a lynx, unusually portly for her species, and wearing a pink-and-white waitress uniform stepped up to their table.  “Hey, Willie!  Good to see you.  Who’s your friend?”

“Hello, Sarah.  This is Tracy, a customer of mine.”

“Nice to meet you, honey.  Here are some menus.  Take your time.  I’ll be back in a second with some water for you.”  Sarah bustled off.

Tracy leaned across the table and raised his eyebrows questioningly. “Willie?” he asked.

The younger male thought he could detect a hint of a blush beneath the short, velvety hairs on the top of Roy’s snout.  The bear explained, “Uhhh, yeah.  My middle name is William, so…”

“Ah! I see.”  Tracy lowered his voice and added, mischievously, “I thought she might be talking about your little…”

Roy coughed into his napkin and Tracy was now certain he could see the bear blushing.  Tracy wondered for a moment if he had gone too far with his joke.  After all, he barely knew Roy.  Tracy noticed something else as Roy replaced his napkin in his lap.  A few of the hairs around Roy’s muzzle were turning gray.  He never noticed them in the dimmer light of The Thread Bear.  Tracy felt his confidence returning as he peeked over his menu at Roy.  “Cute and distinguished,” he found himself thinking.

“Have you decided yet?” Sarah seemingly appeared out of nowhere with their glasses of water.

Tracy nearly jumped out of his skin.  He’d encountered plenty of felines while traveling around the country with his family.  Yet he could never get used to the near-silent way they moved with those retractable claws.  A canine like himself would have been heard clicking her way across the tile from half way across the diner.  “Just a hot tea, please.”

Roy rumbled deep in his throat, “Don’t pay any attention to this young fellow, Sarah.  Bring him one of those amazing club sandwiches with that tea.”  Tracy began to protest, but the bear cut him short, “Shhh!  This is on me.  I mean it!” he said firmly then he turned back to their waitress, “I’ll take the meat loaf special.  Uh, hold the onions.”

Sarah raised an eyebrow at that last remark and glanced at Tracy, but said nothing.  She finished scribbling on her order pad and, after reading it back to them, recommended saving some room for a slice of pie.

“Haw!  You know it!” said Roy, grinning broadly.

They made their way through the darkened streets back toward The Thread Bear.  Tracy felt fuller than he had in months. “Thanks so much for dinner,” he said, “You really didn’t need to…”

Roy waved a huge paw, “Look, don’t mention it.  I like treating my friends and it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity.  I’m grateful for the company tonight.”

Tracy was grateful too.  He certainly didn't expect to be treated to a meal when he returned the rented suit to The Thread Bear, but Roy insisted on it.  The conversation over dinner had been light and every bit as enjoyable as the meal itself.  Roy seemed to be genuinely interested as the young coyote described his date with Lucy (leaving out the awkward moments at the end, of course).

The air was cooler now and the two males walked in silence for a few minutes.  Then Roy said, “Tracy, thanks for joining me tonight.  What with my business hours, I usually wind up eating alone.  It was a real pleasure.”  He paused a moment, then he stepped so close to the young coyote that Tracy swore he could feel waves of warmth emanating from the bear.  “If you’re willing, I’d like to do it again some time.”

Tracy felt his head spinning at the words.  “I’d like that too,” he managed to say.

Roy leaned down, their muzzles close, but not touching.  Tracy’s heart skipped a beat.  Was it his imagination or did Roy pause there for the briefest of moments before opening and holding the car door for him?  Tracy slipped behind the wheel.  “Is, uh, Saturday too soon?” he asked, “My roommates are doing this poker thing and I’d much rather…”  The coyote's words ran dry.

“Saturday it is!  I close up shop at five o’clock on the weekend, but it’s rare that I see any customers after four.  You want to swing by around then?”  Tracy nodded and Roy smiled, “All right!  We have a da—  I mean a plan.”  Roy shut the door and thumped his paw on the roof of the car.

Tracy pulled away, signaling a left one block up the street.  Before making the turn, a glance in the rear-view mirror told him that Roy was still standing at the side of the road, hands in his pockets, watching.  The temperature had dropped considerably since they first walked into the diner, yet Tracy still felt amazingly warm inside as he drove through the Chicago night.