It wasn't completely unusual for people to linger in the halls of the social office, but her face, Arthur hadn't seen before. He slowed his pace, out of curiosity, most of all, and studied the stranger's nervous form. She sat in one of the decrepit chairs in the main hall, left as a makeshift waiting room despite the lack of people who even came to this office, shaking her knee as her hands, clasped tightly, bounced atop it. Her eyes scanned the room frequently, in Arthur’s favor, stopping just short of where he stood to observe, and a sickened look enrobed her aura. With a harsher bounce of her leg, she pushed a breath of air through her pursed lips, flattening her back against the chair and leaning her head back to face the ceiling. He intended to move on from watching her when one of the other psychiatrists in the building made their way towards her. At their approaching footsteps, she shot her head up, an anxious grimace playing on her face.
“(Y?N)? What are you still doing here?” The doctor looked to her watch, furrowing her brow, “Our sessions been over for 20 minutes.”
“Dr. Setler!,” The girl, who Arthur now overheard as (Y/N), began to wring her hands roughly, “I-I don’t...d-didn’t,”
She stopped suddenly, scrunching her nose and huffing a burst of air with a twitch of her head. He thought she was just stammering, her nerves getting to her, but as she continued to speak, he realized she struggled through multiple words, stopping almost entirely in between some, and continuously scrunching her face as she grappled through her sentences.
“I th-thought we had an extended session today and I didn’t get your call it was sh..compressed. I was going to wait until my ride arrived.”
Setler raised her brow, a tight-lipped smile flashed towards the girl that seemed in the least bit forced, “That’s going to be quite some time, yes?”
“Well, yes,” When she finally stuttered out her answer, she spilled out with a slight panic, “I’d rather just wait, I don’t truly want to call.”
Her mouth hung open as if to say more, but the doctor waved dismissively in her face, placing a hand on her back and leading her, quite reluctantly, to the public phone in the foyer, “Nonsense, Remember we talked about practicing with phone calls? You’ll only get better. Waiting here all day is obscene.”
She attempted desperately to disagree, but between her struggles to speak and dismission of Setler, she was unwillingly shoved to the device, and a receiver was thrust into her trembling hand.
With a rough pat on her back, Dr. Setler gave a short wave goodbye and took off down the hall. Arthur was not one to enjoy eavesdropping. He knew, and it was ingrained in him, that it was rude, but even with his consciousness scolding him as he stayed out of suspicion and listened, he was unable to stop. She stood blankly for a few moments before she slowly began to spin in the numbers, swaying on her feet as she unknowingly sealed her fate with each rotation. Although he couldn’t hear the speaker on the other side, he gathered enough.
The conversation looked painful to be involved in, the girl’s already debilitating stutter exemplified over the phone, and the stress that seemed to be gripping her was tightening with every word. In summary, she was behind on her paycheck, thus placing her behind on her already reduced-price medications. The man on the other end, who she’d addressed as her uncle, was audible even from where Arthur stood, although his words were indistinguishable, his distaste was crystal-clear.
“No meds, no roof.”
A persnickety individual, he seemed set on his personal philosophy that if she wasn't on whatever medications she was prescribed, instantly, she wasn't mentally sound or safe to be in his home. The ideal made Arthur sick.
At some point, the girl had half resulted to begging, pushing the phone tightly to her cheek and clenching her fist until her knuckles turned white. Her uncle was highly impatient with her stutter and as the conversation pressed on, she, too, was becoming increasingly frustrated with her inability to converse concisely. Within the limited range of the phone cord, (Y/N) paced and screamed internally. After desperate convincing, she managed to buy herself a day, 24 hours to pack up whatever life she had in her uncle's apartment and leave it behind. Part of her was relieved, the other was still preoccupied with finding a new apartment.
When the death buzz of an empty phone line stung in her ear, she finally gave up on trying to hold whatever was left of her together. Tears sprang to her eyes the second the receiver touched the hook and her palms rubbed her face angrily. Stumbling and shuffling to the seat in the hall, she slumped heavily into the worn and flaking leather. Her face was covered by her hands, muffling her weary cries, and a frown took over Arthur's own expression.
A moment or two passed, the otherwise quiet hall echoing with her sadness, before Arthur finally forced himself to stop creeping on the poor girl and at least do something . And so, Arthur Fleck did what Arthur Fleck wanted to do most: make somebody laugh.
He approached her slowly, his light footfalls rising only slightly above her sobs and cautiously lowered himself into the seat next to her. She stiffened, but remained otherwise unchanged. He placed an immense amount of will power into keeping his own self calm, hoping a fit of painful laughter wouldn't rip through him. An awkward second passed, and when he thought about how uncomfortable his silent presence probably felt, the joke he'd been balancing on his tongue jumped out.
"Why are poor people so confused?"
Although she didn't verbalize her acknowledgement of him, he sensed a loosening of her hands as he cries quieted ever so with curiosity. She was unnerved, she wouldn't deny that, but she couldn't ignore what he'd just say out of the mere oddness of the question. Unknowing of its humorous intention, she stayed unmoving and waited.
Whether it was with good or poor judgement, Arthur nudged her shoulder as he delivered the punch line, "Because they don't make any cents."
Nothing. At first, there was absolutely nothing, then what to him sounded like harder sobbing, and then finally, a sound he was all too familiar with (maybe just not from others), laughter . Sad and bitter laughter at first, but soon it morphed into soft but genuine chuckling. Her palms began to rub her face with a pitied groan, her head shaking in self-disbelief and she assertively wiped the fallen tears from underneath her red eyes.
"Th-That's the worst joke I've ever heard," Arthur's heart plummeted, "I love it."
She finally turned to look at him, a weak smile tugging at her lips, and something deep in him glowed.
"Well, I'd hoped you would." He returned the grin, shifting in his seat as she took a few steadier breaths.
It was evident she was apprehensive about speaking, something Arthur understood, although perhaps from a different perspective. Her eyes darted quickly to the brown paper bag in his hand, her ears honing in on the unmistakable sounds of pills, and she seemed almost to relax more at the realization he was a fellow patient at the office.
An awkward silence grew quickly between them but he rubbed his palms on his knees and confided, "I didn't mean to listen in, but I overheard you don't have a ride and you're nervous about taking the subway alone. If you want, I take the subway all the time, I wouldn't mind joining you, if it would make you feel better."
He felt like he may have been rambling, pulling back as he pressed his lips together. She was staring at him silently, a strange look on her features and Arthur began to panic that he may have said the wrong thing. Or maybe he sat the wrong way, or did the wrong thi-
"I'd r-re..verily appreciate that." She tripped out, her head nodding softly as her eyes seemed to gleam. "Seriously, it would mean a lot."
His lips twitched upwards again and he sighed in relief, rising from his seat as he extended his hand towards her.
"My name is Arthur."
Her hand, still trembling, slipped gently into his, contradicting the firm grip and sharp shake she gave him.
Nodding, she flashed her teeth at him genuinely, "(Y/N)."