Baby, I Love to See You Smile

The little table stood out like a sore thumb. The late-night-at-night mall crowd wasn't the type that was generally interested in spontaneous conversation with product-shilling strangers. Angel at least was one dubious moral step above his fellow customers: he was at the mall tonight on a noble Cordelia-sponsored mission to stay in touch with humanity. The monthly mall visits had been her idea.

"You need understand the hopeless if you're gonna help them," she told him sternly. "And what better place than the mall to gather whole bunches of them and observe them in their most primal, natural state of greed and avarice?"

"You just want me to buy you stuff," he sighed. Ever since his epiphany, and the clothes that had been involved, he could tell Cordelia had been salivating for another chance to expose Angel to purchasing opportunities. The mall was noisy. It was crowded, and it was full of things that he certainly did not need. Some of them were interesting, though…like that silk purple rose in a tiny little bud vase. Rows of them were lined up on that obtrusive little table just outside the drugstore…

In the back of his already Cordelia-occupied mind, it suddenly occurred to him that Cordelia liked purple, and that she liked flowers. If he bought Cordelia one of those purple roses, she would smile. That would be nice.

He inched his way closer to the table, and finally was close enough to make out the lettering on the cardboard sign that the flowers were propping up: "Free Gift" it said.

"Market research survey," said the bored-looking man who was manning the table. A name tag, "Joe-Bob" hung from the t-shirt that stretched laboriously across his squishy waist. "Free gift if you help out…"

"What kind of survey?" asked Angel.

"The Body Beautiful corporation will soon be expanding its product line," recited Joe-Bob dutifully. "We are seeking the input of our valued customers and potential customers in developing our product line…"

Body beautiful…much as it horrified him to realize this, that name was ringing bells with him. Could it, like everything else about this excursion, have to do with…ah, there it was. A tiny little display in the corner of the table: bath products, in all sorts of unnatural colours, and some of which had tiny bits of glitter embedded into them. He had seen these very products in Cordelia's bathroom the other night.

"It'll only take a few minutes," pleaded Joe-Bob mournfully. "The Body Beautiful corporation sure appreciates the input of average people like you…"

Cordelia would be so proud of him. Not only was he getting a free thing, but it was a PRETTY free thing. And he would be interacting with a human being to get it, and providing valuable information to the Body Beautiful corporation at the same time…

"Now, just pull up a chair," the man continued. "I appreciate your help on this, bro. It's been kind of a slow night…"

Angel shrugged, eyeing the flowers with proprietary longing.

"Yeah, they're cute, aren't they?" said Joe-Bob, noticing his stare. "Better than the crap we usually give away with this kinda thing…calendars and ginsu knives and mace keychains and junk…Your girl'll like it. You got a girl?"

Angel nodded happily. Cordelia was his best friend in the world, and she liked flowers. She would be very proud of him for getting her one.

"And does the girl in question use Body Beautiful products?" asked the man hopefully.

Angel shrugged.

"Great. See, what's happening is that Body Beautiful, as you know, has been making quality bath products for women, and we've had great success with that. So it started us thinking that maybe it's time we developed products for MEN…"

Angel eyed the shiny packages dubiously. "Really."

"Yup. Now, obviously, we'll be making a few changes…you know, appeal to the more manly side of life…and that's where we need your help. Now, let's start with some basic demographic stuff…Name?"

"Angel."

"Right, ok, now age…"

Angel frowned.

"Look, buddy, this ain't something you gotta think about, is it? We use your basic demographic-like categories here. You 18-25?"

"No."

"All right, 26-32 then. Now, occupation?"

"I help people."

"Uh huh. Social worker, is it? Policeman? Lawyer?"

"No," said Angel, horrified.

"Not a lawyer then, fine, no need to get snippy. What are ya then?"

"Detective, I guess."

"Detective? Hey, cool. Betcha got a lot of neat stories…"

Angel squirmed, unprepared for this cross-examination into his private affairs. "Are we done? 'Cause someone's meeting me…"

"Oh, no," Joe-Bob said. "All right, I'll hurry this up. Now, you seem like a man who is somewhat familiar with Body Beautiful products. You ever try any?"

"No."

"Cause some men, they don't like to admit it ya see, but they secretly use their girlfriend's…anyway, let's talk for a minute about the types of products you usually buy. Now, you strike me as a hair kinda guy. You buy hair products?"

"I guess…"

Joe-Bob nodded. "Now, if I told ya the product had vitamins in it, would you be more or less likely to buy it?"

Angel shrugged. "Depends on how cheap it is. I'm on a budget, you know." He was proud of that, actually. Cordelia was always so preoccupied with money…if he saved money from being cheap hair products, he could use it to buy her things. When he bought her things, she gave him smiles. Cordelia had a beautiful smile. He eyed the flowers.

"I get that," said Joe-Bob. "You're a practical sort of guy. You don't go for any of that new-agey junk. Vitamins in the past have sorta been behind the scenes kinda things, not something people really notice. But…what if I offered you a product where you could actually SEE the vitamins?"

He held up a shiny purple container with little globby blue bits floating in it. "Now, obviously we'd change the colour scheme here, but you get the drift. This shampoo has keratins in it." He pointed to the blue things. "And there they are!"

Angel squinted. "They look radioactive. Are they safe?"

"Corrse they are! You think the government of the United States of America would let us put to market something that wasn't safe?"

Angel shrugged. "Hair doesn't need vitamins. It's dead." So was the rest of him, actually. But he wasn't going to go pointing that out.

"Moving on," said Joe-Bob anxiously. "We have the creams. You ever use a proper hand cream, bud?"

Angel shook his head.

"Well, you don't know what you're missing!" Joe-Bob exclaimed. "Now, I bet someone in your line of work, you would love our Aloe-berry Antidote…"

"Aloe is not a berry," said Angel. "It's a plant. And it's not a…fuschia one," he said, eyeing the product sample. "And it doesn't…" he squinted. "It doesn't glow in the dark either."

"It does when we're finished with it," said Joe-Bob confidently. "Kids love this. They put it on their hands and they can paw each other in darkened movie theatres."

Angel squinted thoughtfully.

"Of course, we would be changing the colour," said Joe-Bob. "Something MUCH more manly. And I bet we'd take the glitter out. Definitely we would."

"You said it would be perfect for my line of work," said Angel. "How does that…I mean, detective, don't want to be exactly glowing in the dark all conspicuous…"

"That's right!" said Joe-Bob. "That's why you need our new improved manly version of the Greek-Once-A-Week system. Busy people like you, you only need to…once a week…"

Angel frowned in confusion. But Joe-Bob had already said the purple thing was perfect for him. And it was not. Could that Joe-Bob and Body Beautiful were not really thinking of his needs at all? That they just wanted to dump as many free samples in his lap as they could before he got bored and walked away?

Joe-Bob was spooning a glutinous green substance onto Angel's arm. "This is the Greek-Once-a-Week clay moisturizer," he explained. "It's so concentrated that one application a week takes care of everything. Now, just sit tight and wait for it to solidify…"

It felt crunchy. Underneath the hardening shell, little bits of oozing green were seeping into his pores. He gritted his teeth and reminded himself why he was doing this: humanity. Cordelia. If he bought Cordelia a flower, she would smile…

"Now doesn't that feel nice?" boomed Joe-Bob. "Now, would you be more or less likely to buy that if it had citrus?"

"Get it off," Angel hissed.

"All right," said Joe-Bob affably. "Now, if this was available in a round container, would you be more likely or less likely to buy it than if it was in a square container?"

Who cared about the container? All Angel really wanted to know was how many questions he had to answer before he got the flower.

"You've been a sport," said Joe-Bob, right on cue. "Nice to meetcha. Please accept this free gift courtesy the Body Beautiful corporation…wouldja like to buy something before ya go?"

"No," said Angel, warily eyeing the green residue on his hand.

"For your lady?"

Joe-Bob shoved the flower into his arms, and somewhere inside him, the practical side of his brain that had just trashed the Body Beautiful products with such skill shut off, and all he could see was Cordelia's pretty smile. She liked it when he bought her things. He liked making her smile. Five minutes later, he strolled to their meeting place, $50 worth of bath products tucked into one hand and that pretty purple flower perched in the other. Cordelia would be so proud of him, he glowed. Not only had he got her something pretty, but it had been free…