Stephen crunched a taco and flipped through a Leni Riefenstahl picture book. Grease dribbled to his chin; he wiped it. Across the bookshop café Jenny collected magazines and abandoned plates from empty tables. Stephen crossed his legs a little and looked at her.

Jenny was a manager. She wore khaki skirts and button-up shirts to cover a little bulge of fat below her tummy. She was young and a little crooked-toothed. Stephen visited her often, noticeably often, at the help desk for books he already knew were in or out of stock. Jenny now orbited close to Stephen's table that was near the biography section. He cleared his throat and caught her attention.

"I think I'd like to ask you out," he said after a minute.

"Oh," said Jenny, somewhere between flattery and discomfort. She stepped back.

"Nothing involved or -"

"No, no. I mean, I wouldn't -"

"Dinner," Stephen said.

"I guess not," Jenny said. She tucked her hair, apologized and padded away.

Stephen took it well. He was, for one, not a great-looking man. He was older, and his tastes ran younger. At some point he accepted his predilections, went about pursuing them and settled for the annually high percentage of rejections. It left him particularly lonely among his colleagues who had aimed lower, but their settling somehow satisfied his ego: It served as proof that they had played the odds, while he aspired. He thought of their eyes on him when his long shot came in.

He returned to the taco, now half cold, and the book, which he had picked to browse because his friend's wife, a cinema buff, had said Leni Riefenstahl was the greatest female filmmaker in history. The colleague's wife did not mention she was the Nazi who directed Hitler's propaganda movies. And judging from Riefenstahal's work in the book, which included photography of naked Bushmen, Stephen didn't get the big idea. He left the store.

The bookshop was located at an outdoor mall. Plazas and sidewalks connected the shops and its open layout kept away the ugly, fat element, Stephen figured, who'd rather slug around at food courts inside dim, static shopping centers.

In the plazas there were girls and their boys, tottering, lingering, baking in the heat of a high afternoon sun. The girls wore whites and pinks, yellows and blues; their stiff hair fought against southern prairie breezes. They carried sodas in wax cups or empty sundae bowls from the ice cream store. The boys ambled beside them, swiveling around so as not to miss the other girls while pinching the bellies of their own, or pulling them close for quick kisses. Their hats were pulled low to cover their eyes.

At night these packs of two merged to a swarm at the movie complex located at one end of the mall, where they squeezed into whatever theater still had seats remaining. Stephen would take a seat at a nearby pizza café, order a beer, maybe a calzone, and marvel at their innate, almost offhand sexuality. They were so certain with their movements, their clutches, their kisses, their sly grabs in private areas. Stephen read one story after another in the newspaper of fat, ugly, listless teens who holed up in basements with video games and cheese puffs, and yet before him was a sea of tan and hard bodies, rocking gently in the plaza, slowly gathering the sexual tension that would explode in cars at the park. He grabbed a discarded newspaper from a nearby patio table, paid, and walked to the line at the box office, and while waiting he watched a particular girl. Her top was two pieces of airy blue garment that wrapped tightly around her body and met at a single button near the divide of her breasts. She leaned into her boyfriend, a tall kid with an oversized football jersey, its threads glinting in the sun. The boy slid his hand up from the girl's belly button, to the point where her garments met, then beyond, where she drew her hand to his, to guide him.