Balancing the 64oz Dunkin Coolatta in one hand, I knock on the door. A bleary-eyed Affleck answers, ripping the coffee from my hand.
The foyer is blocked by an air mattress containing Matt Damon and Kevin Smith, cuddled in each other’s arms. Matt kicks like a dog having a bad dream.
“Isn’t your family supposed to be here?” I ask, setting my stuff on the only available space — the top of a paper towel roll. Ben looks annoyed at the question, but mostly by being asked a question.
My responsibility is toast, which I’m reminded is important by both Ben and the newly awake Kevin who, blanket draped around his shoulders, looks like Henry VIII.
“Kevin talks too much,” Ben confides. “Which is funny. Because, you know, Clerks.” It’s the only time I’ve seen him smile.
The toast pops too early. Matt snags the plate and scuttles to the rec room where he and the King of England watch the Red Sox.
“You’ll ruin your fucking appetite!” Ben shouts, tossing a spatula into the bacon pan and sending grease all over the Pats-inspired-ceramic-backsplash.
He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I haven’t had my coffee.”
The empty Coolata is in his hand.
His apology morphs into something deeper… a rare vulnerability. “My dad never-
The sound of struggle silences him forever. Matt and Kevin wrestle over the remote- the king uncrowned and under-toasted Wonder Bread flung everywhere. As Ben patiently shows them the TV’s dual screen potential, I’m struck by a sudden realization- Ben’s family would never arrive.
*This* was his family.
When breakfast is ready, Kevin and Matt stack their plates with sausage and eggs. “Fiber,” Ben reminds them, and they shamefully return for some fruit. He smiles.
Like any amount of joy in Affleck’s life, however, it doesn’t last.
A Chrysler Pacifica pulls into the driveway and Jennifer Garner, looking much how Gabriel appeared to Mary, floats out of the driver’s side to a heavenly chorus (a new feature of the 2022 model).
She’s here to drop off the actual kids, and, as they file up the stairs, Matt offers each one a high-five — all go unrequited.
Ben, suddenly very adamant about cleaning, sends me out. She greets me warmly by name, which I haven’t mentioned.
Kevin has only called me “chief.”
She thanks me for being here. I know she means it. She smiles.
As she gets back in the car, I fight the urge to join.
I know I would be welcome.
I know there would be snacks.
“She looks at everyone that way,” Ben sighs, appearing behind my shoulder. “It’s her best and worst quality.” He smiles again but without joy.
Only the dishes are left. Matt draws the short straw. All anger and tears, he slams the cupboard doors, grumbling “come on” about sixteen times.
“I’m not gonna do it!” he shouts in the den, where Ben and Kevin are quoting Chasing Amy from memory. “I’m not gonna do it alone!”
Kevin washes. Ben rinses. Matt dries.
After chores, the boys play hide-and-seek. Kevin and Matt disappear, and I must remind Ben three times to find them.
Forty-five minutes later we discover Matt perched on the roof.
He’s deathly afraid of heights, which he has just remembered, and is on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
“It’s funny. Because, you know, The Martian.” Ben whispers.
Like any good father, Ben immediately calls Matt’s therapist. Dr. Musgrave will arrive in fifteen minutes, so Ben calms Matt by singing Irish love songs.
It’s the sweetest version of Molly Malone I’ve ever heard.
Musgrave arrives just as they’re perfecting harmonies.
He looks so much like Robin Williams, I cry. He gives a smile that says “Everything’s gonna be ok” or “I am Jennifer Garner.”
“Therapists smile at everyone that way,” Ben says.
He wakes Kevin, who’s been “hiding” under the covers in the bedroom. He’s angry that no one found him, but, once Ben tucks him in, he forgets and quickly dozes off.
Exhaustion fills Ben’s sad, gentle (but mostly sad) eyes- the Coolatta has worn off.
He asks if I’m ready to go home.
“I am home,” I respond, surprising even myself.
He nods. Not only did he expect this, but maybe- just maybe- he wanted it too.
He has one more air mattress, just my size.
“How ‘bout them apples?” he says.
Which is funny. Because, you know, Goodwill Hunting.
Sage Huston and Pen Marcus are former college friends. They’re still friends but no longer in college, pardon the confusion. They once ate deli sandwiches sitting on a gross Boston sidewalk, and it was the best day of their lives.