Sated by food, wine, whisky and bon homie, our men are in dinner party afterglow.
They are sprawled in armchairs, daring each other to have “one more for the road.” No worries, though. She and I, bessies from the moment we met 34 years ago as naïve trainee newspaper hacks, are squashed together on the sofa, reminiscing.
She pulls out a photograph of us in “our heyday”. “God,” she says, “Why did we ever think we weren’t pretty, or not slim enough?”. We are young again, basking in the moment.
But suddenly, she is not. Mother Alert jolts her into realising it’s 10pm, her son of 16 has not returned home and her mobile is ominously silent. She keeps picking it up and checking it, just in case it’s switched itself off.
I talk about our matching Eighties poodle perms and battle of the shoulder pads to lure her back to me. But now she’s now sending a text message. Then another. And a few minutes later, another.
Now she’s actually calling him. One, twice, three times... I, the mother of a boy eight years older, know exactly why she’s doing it - and why it won’t work.
I gently urge her not to call again. Her boy is probably on his way home this minute, but he will never be like his older sister, I say. Boys don’t call to tell you they’ve got somewhere safely, then to share what a lovely time they’re having, then to say they’re just getting into the taxi. Boys communicate with mothers when they want food, a lift; money. Only when something goes wrong and they need a metaphorical shoulder to cry on are they, briefly, your little boy wanting mum’s voice.
They don’t realise their silence works us into a frenzy of imagined fates that could have befallen them. As I reassure her, I’m resisting the urge to text MY son some random jokey question, just to see if he did actually arrive in Leeds when he drove off on a night out 27 hours ago and isn’t lying unconscious in a ditch at the side of some remote stretch of the M1.
When her lad comes in at 10.15pm her face lights up. But she can’t help but voice the words I’ve uttered maybe 1.29 million times: “I texted and called. I was worried. Why didn’t you reply?”
“I did. Just didn’t send them. Waste of money,” he shrugged, handing her his phone so she could read them all in one go - for free. The whisky-soused duo simply grin and shrug.
We pick up that old photograph. No wonder we looked good. We didn’t know what worry was.