Recently, The Boy and I were walking one of his pal's home, following their after-school knock-about time (various larks and boyish shriekery, all of which sounded like a good time was being had). The unusual detail to the evening, was that this pal was not one of the usual suspects, so when I was asked whether he'd be allowed to come back with us, I was keen to say 'yes' - The Boy's sociability is one of the things that most pleases and impresses me.
As we walk, I ask The Pal whether he walks to school or is dropped off by car. He explains that for mother's walk-related schedule, it tends to be car, apart from her one day off per week. He then pipes up with, 'But I couldn't walk from my Dad's - that's too far'. He adds that Dad lives in Nearton, only a couple of miles away. And I remember there being mention, only a month or so ago, of this young lad's parents separating (I still don't know what that means... half-way house, permanent split, or otherwise). The Lad - who I'd distantly read as a bright-eyed chap, suddenly looks a bit serious, though not quite mournful. It is a sensitive moment, as I happen to catch the eye of Alex, who seems also to recognise this with the most acute of eyebrow twitches. And Alex speaks.
'There's no way I could walk to school from my Dad's house! (mock laugh) He lives in London!'
'You could' I suggest, 'but you'd have to set off about a week earlier'.
'Yeah', he agrees. Continuing, he turns to his pal, 'Imagine that - having to set off a week before we're meant to be at school - that's just nuts.'
His pal joins in with the mock laughter, and seems to relax - the frown dissipating.
It is gentle, it is normalising, it is a moment in which my love for Alex is immediate and felt.
'Race you', he calls, as he tears off from his pal and I. The Pal runs off, too, albeit bearing a school-bag weight disadvantage.
We reach The Pal's house - another first, for me. Mother answers the door, relaxed in enormous pink slippers and pleased to see her little man. I proffer the ever-pleasing complimentary remarks about her son, and The Boy and I bid these folk, plus younger brother, a good evening. The novelty of the drop-off - we grown-ups remaining largely unfamiliar, means that there is a certain stiffness, but all is fine. There is simplicity and gorgeousness in all of this.
Turning back to wave at The Pal and his mum, The Boy calls out - all high spirits and with comic intention, 'See you later, suckers!'.
I roll my eyes, sigh, and am relieved to note that this has generated a genuine smile from the mother.
The Boy and I walk home.