My Brother's Keeper
Janet Cohn was grateful to have Luke Luckman as her neighbor when she moved into Green Meadows Condos following her divorce. She and Luke had been in and out of each other's lives since college. Even though Janet grew up in Greenville and Luke was raised across the river in Hillsboro, they ironically didn't meet until they were both Communications Majors at Emerson College in Boston. They often shared rides home together on weekends and vacations and they became good but platonic friends.
Later, they both worked at Radio Station WGRN Greenville - he as a DJ (Lucky Luckman), she doing the news and playing the occasional side kick. They did a couple of community theater productions together in their twenties and they served together on the Blue County Community Television Board. They volunteered in the Booster's Club snack bar when their kids were in high school and they even briefly co-hosted a monthly talk show on local cable access. They were co-workers and good friends who got along well together while happily married to other people and contently raising their own families.
But life is not always perfect and both faced challenges in middle age. Luke's wife got sick and passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Luke sold his house (at a reduced price) to his adult daughter Lucy so she could raise her family there and he moved into Green Meadows. A few years later, Luke bumped into Janet at a mutual friend's retirement party and he learned that she was recently divorced and looking for a place to live so he whole-heartily recommended Green Meadows as an option.
Janet was nervous about moving in a few doors down from Luke because she was in no hurry to resume a social or romantic life but, much to her relief, Luke was the perfect gentleman who respected her wishes and treated her more like a sister than a potential date and that made for an easy and smooth transition.
Nearly two years had passed since Janet moved into Green Meadows and she and Luke were good neighborly pals. Luke was the guy Janet went to for help and advice, whether it was assisting in fixing a leaky faucet or a soul searching conversation about her kids or aging mom. Luke was back at WGRN (FM) as the morning guy (this time he was Lucky Luke) and Janet taught a couple of classes at Blue County Community College and she worked part time as a managing editor at the Green College Radio Station (GCRN).
Janet dated off and on in the two years since her divorce. She enjoyed going out to a movie or for a good meal but she hadn't gotten serious with any of the men she dated.
"I like meeting new people but I don't see myself settling down with any of them," Janet candidly told Luke when he mentioned the number of men she had been out with.
Ironically, Luke wasn't the most sociable person, mostly because he always had to be "on" in his radio persona and with all the public appearances he made as part of his gig. When he was away from the microphone, Luke enjoyed his down time, perfectly content hanging out with Janet in their platonic friendship enjoying movies or dinner together without any expectations or commitments. Their occasional hand holding and innocent good night kisses were tokens of esteem and respect as much as they were affection.
Sometimes, Janet felt guilty when she went out on a 'real' date with another man.
"I feel like I'm cheating on you," she confessed when she cancelled an outing with Luke to go out on a semi-date with a colleague from work.
"You shouldn't feel guilty," Luke assured her and Janet wasn't sure if she should feel relieved or disappointed by his reaction.
Truth be told, Janet liked Luke a lot. It was clear they got along splendidly well had a lot in common and that they both enjoyed the other's company. Both were in their early fifties and still living the good life but Luke had never gotten over the death of his wife and that was holding him back. Even if he confessed his true feelings for her, Janet knew this to be true and she respected Luke's need to grieve his wife in his own way.
So Janet was content with the status quo and she was grateful for the relationship she had with Luke, as undefined and 'safe' as it was. She felt warm, comfortable and contented when they hung out together. His small town celebrity didn't bother her as she had a taste of that herself in her own various career experiences. Janet actually enjoyed the attention and Luke was good at playing the game no matter how intrusive or even rude people were sometimes.
Luke was still an attractive man on the other side of fifty. He wore his graying hair long as part of his DJ motif. He was still relatively thin with a small paunch around his mid-section although he worked out and tried to stay in shape. He was never particularly handsome even in their college years but he had a warm personality that played well on the air and a terrific sense of humor that made him popular too.
Luke often teased Janet that she never aged. He insisted that she looked the same now at 52 as she did at 20 in college. That wasn't entirely true, of course, but Janet humbly admitted that she was fortunate enough to come from "strong genes" that helped preserve her skin. A little bit of make-up didn't hurt of course but she hadn't gained all that much weight in her middle age and she had always been what her mother called 'naturally attractive'.
Luke insisted that Janet was the popular one in college although she claimed to be shy and insecure.
"You had more girlfriends than I did," Luke complained.
"I would have rather had more boyfriends," was Janet's come back joke line.
They both returned to Blue County after Emerson. Janet got back together with her former high school sweetheart Harris Cohn (by then a young school teacher) and they married a few years later. They struggled financially as the kids came along but they enjoyed a happy marriage for twenty-five years before separating "under mutual agreement."
Luke met his future bride during his first job interview fresh out of college. She was the girlfriend of the son of the station owner (WMCC in Miller City) and although Luke didn't get the job he got the girl as he somehow managed to convince twenty-year old Rosemary McNichols to sneak off on a clandestine date with him. She did and when Luke got hired (nights) at WGRN a few weeks later, Rosemary moved in with him in a small studio apartment in downtown Greenville (a block from the radio station). Rosemary got a job as a receptionist at the station and she remained there off and on for twenty-five years while co-raising the couple's two children.
It wasn't that Luke wasn't sexually interested in people as a widower (including Janet). He just wasn't ready to cheat on Rosemary yet almost five years after her passing. He didn't fret over his lack of pursuit because he knew it would happen when he was finally ready to let Rosemary go. He basically knew that Janet was the right person for him but he didn't want to wreck what they presently had until he was convinced he was ready to take it to the next level.
Janet understood that Luke was devoted to Rosemary even in death and that he was in no hurry to engage in less than platonic relationships, even jokingly telling Janet that he had become asexual as a widower although he failed to notice the funny expression on her face in response to the strange line.
Janet stopped by Luke's place one afternoon which was fairly routine. "Helen Hamlett has a new movie out," Janet said excitedly as they sat on Luke's dinky back patio having an afternoon cocktail. "We should go see it."
"Oh, God, Helen Hamlett!" Luke laughed. "What a flake!"
"She's a big time director now," Janet said defensively. "I think she makes good movies."
"Chick flicks," Luke replied.
"I knew she was an extremely talented film major way back at Emerson," Janet bragged. "I knew she was going to have a successful career. I was blown away by her creative eye and insightful film making techniques even back then."
"She was kind of nerdy," Luke recalled. "Didn't talk much if I remember correctly."
"She liked to observe," Janet explained.
"She was kind of spooky," Luke rebutted.
"I wasn't surprised when I started seeing her name in various magazine and newspaper articles over the years," Janet said. "How she worked her way up from documentary film maker to television commercial director to television sitcom and drama director and finally to an up and coming major motion picture director."
"With a string of mid-level hits," Luke critically noted.
"The last few have done pretty well," Janet countered.
"What's this one called?" Luke asked cynically.
"I Have Something To Show You," Janet replied. "It's a sexual farce. Lots of nudity. About a real estate agent having an affair and she meets her lover at the properties she's supposed to be showing under the guise that he's a customer."
"I guess Helen forgot about us when she made it big," Luke said with a grin.
"You just said you didn't like her!" Janet frowned. "Maybe if you had been nicer to her she would have remembered you!"
Luke laughed in reply. "Remember how you and Helen used to come over to the station when I was doing the midnight show on Saturday nights?"
"We'd bring you Taco Bell," Janet smiled with warm nostalgic memories.
"Helen would spend the night going through the album inventory looking for offbeat music for some of her student films," Luke recalled.
"Good times," Janet smiled.
So they went and saw I Have Something To Show You that weekend, a R rated sex-omedy with more skin for a main stream movie then some porno films. Luke was slightly embarrassed watching so many sex scenes with Janet seated next to him eating out of his popcorn container.
"I didn't realize Helen Hamlett was a perv," Luke said as they walked to the car after the movie.
"Because of all the nudity, you mean?" Janet asked with interest.
"It was kind of embarrassing," Luke admitted.
"Would you be upset if you knew somebody who did a nude scene?" Janet asked.
"What kind of silly question is that?" Luke laughed. "How would I possibly know somebody who would do something like that?"
Janet blushed but she didn't answer.
The status quo may have gone on for a long time had Jason not entered the picture. Janet met him at a reception and, quite unexpectedly, they hit it off and they began seeing each other quite frequently. Luke saw them kissing quite passionately on Janet's stoop late one night and he was surprised at how jealous he felt seeing Janet being affectionate with another guy. Luke assumed that he was perfectly happy enjoying a platonic relationship with Janet and suddenly he wanted to kick that Jason guy in the balls.
"So, you like this guy?" Luke asked Janet when she backed out of going to a Serguci League baseball game with him as previously arranged so she could go out with Jason instead.
"It's as if we've known each other for years," Janet admitted with amusement. "We seem to go well together."
Luke realized that he wasn't thrilled with Janet being preoccupied with her new romance. He wondered if he had made a mistake waiting to pursue Janet as his lover. Now, as he saw less of her because she was busy with Jason more often than not, Luke envisioned his future without Janet and that left him feeling lonely and left out.
Janet usually called Luke after one of her dates with Jason, talking the way best friends do sharing every aspect of their lives and Luke felt queasy waiting for her to tell him that she had slept with Jason. Luke wanted to tell her to dump the guy but he knew that would be totally selfish on his part. He honestly didn't think Jason was all that terrific – he was a sales rep for God sakes and a good eight years younger than her – but there was no denying that he was a handsome charmer with perfect teeth so it was understandable why Janet would be taken by him.
Luke had trouble sleeping at night, especially when Janet was out with Jason. He was coming to the depressing realization that Janet loved him differently than he loved her. Luke had done such a good job grooming her as his platonic best friend that he had now lost her to another man.
With Janet preoccupied with Jason, Luke reluctantly agreed to go out with the mother of one of his daughter Lucy's friends. Toni was a divorcee and a fan of Lucky Luke In The Morning but she was much too energetic and bubbly for his tastes – acting as if she was auditioning to be a sidekick on his radio show instead of just enjoying some quiet time with him.
Toni talked about her idea of a potential future husband and Luke realized that he had none of the attributes she was rambling on about. It only made him miss Rosemary all the more and to think about what it might be like to be married to Janet now. Lucy was hopeful that her Dad would hit it off with Toni because she was worried about his permanent state of widower status but Luke wasn't interested in a second date with the woman. She was nice enough – and he probably could have slept with her that first date night if he wanted (she was that eager) – but if Luke had held sleeping with Janet for two years what would be the point of jumping into the sack with a woman he barely knew after one date?
Luke was feeling lonely and troubled after his awkward date with Toni. He noticed that Janet's lights were still on when he got home and that there was no sign of Jason's sporty car so he walked over to Janet's condo and rang the front door bell.
It was late and Janet was surprised to see Luke standing on her stoop when she opened the door, a robe over her nightgown.
"Did I wake you?" Luke asked with regret. "Maybe I shouldn't have come by."
"I was dozing on the couch," she admitted, slightly embarrassed, stepping back and gesturing for him to enter. "Something wrong?" She asked with concern as she followed him into the living room.
"I had a date tonight," Luke groaned painfully.
"Oh?" Janet replied with surprise. "You didn't tell me."
"We haven't talked so much lately," he pointed out, falling onto the couch where she had just been dozing.
"So, how was it?" Janet asked with interest as she took a seat on the end of the coffee table directly in front of him.
"Horrible," he confessed.
Janet laughed, amused by his reaction. "Oh, I'm sure it wasn't that bad," she said dismissively.
"I need you to cheer me up," Luke muttered.
"It's one in the morning," she deadpanned. "I'm a little off my game."
Luke sat up on the couch and gave her a long stare. "How are things going for you?" He wanted to know.
"Good," she admitted, looking embarrassed by the revelation. "Jay's really a great guy."
Luke rolled his eyes.
Janet leaned in and gave him a soft kiss – chaste and understated. "You'll have better dates," she assured him.
"I'm too old for this stuff," Luke groaned.
"Do you want something to drink?"
He shrugged his shoulders undecidedly.
Janet stood and went to a cabinet in the corner of the room where she poured two drinks, returning with the two glasses and sitting next to him on the couch, handing him one of the drinks, sitting so close that their thighs were rubbing together.
"Cheers," Janet said, lifting her glass to her lips and Luke did the same.
He tried not to think of the urge he was feeling, his desire to touch her intimately and the urges of yearning caught him by surprise. Why didn't he just sleep with Toni and get all the sexual frustrations out of his system? Would he be cheating on Rosemary or Janet if he slept with Toni? Uncertainty mocked him as he thought about Jason, wondering if Janet loved him more. She noticed the bewildered look on his face.
"What was wrong with the date?" Janet asked.
"Lucy put me up to it," Luke complained.
"So you went under protest?" Janet guessed.
"I suppose," he admitted. "We went to the Grille. It was fine. It's just that she talked way too much. And she was so giddy. It drove me crazy. And she wanted me to go home with her," he added sheepishly.
"She wanted to sleep with you!?" Janet asked with amazement. "On your first date!?"
"Yeah," he sighed, avoiding her eyes. "It made me uncomfortable."
"I bet it did!"
Luke threw her a glance. "Have you slept with Jason?" He asked bluntly.
Janet blushed, caught off guard by his question. He immediately felt guilty for asking her something so inappropriate but he stared at her miserably waiting for an answer. Tears filled her eyes.
"Oh God, I'm sorry," Luke said awkwardly. "I don't know why I asked you that. It's none of my business. Don't answer, really."
Janet's forehead was furrowed and her eyebrows were pushed together as she stared at him. "What's going on, Luke?" She wanted to know.
"I don't know," he groaned
Janet set her glass down on the coffee table and gave Luke a comforting hug. "I haven't slept with him," she whispered so softly he barely heard her.
Luke was surprised by how relieved he felt to hear her say that. He was still a bastard for asking but all he cared about right now was the feel of her wrapped around him, the familiar sensation of peace and comfort that he experienced when he was with her. He wanted to tell her that he loved her but he was afraid to take that plunge, especially with her involved with Jason.
"I should go," Luke said after a long hugging session, each of them enjoying their mutual touching.
"Okay," Janet agreed, unable to ask him to stay knowing Jason was waiting to do the same thing.
She stood from the couch and led him to the front door. "Good night, Luke,' she said, giving him a kiss
"Thanks for indulging me," he replied before disappearing into the night.
Luke had trouble sleeping, preoccupied with thoughts of Janet and angst about losing her to Jason. Suddenly, he was full of paranoia, convinced that Janet wasn't attracted to him in the way he assumed they would become as a couple. He was full of doubt realizing that he couldn't compete with a guy like Jason - who had the charima, ease, youth and power to sweep Janet off her feet.
How ironic that just when he was finally ready to move beyond the loss of Rosemary, Luke was about to lose the one person he was willing to take a chance on. Maybe they were meant to be platonic friends all along and Luke's thoughts of a romance were just the foolish fantasies of a lonely middle aged man. Maybe he should give Toni a call or respond to some of the obvious flirtations of Emily, the thirty-something year old single news reader at the station. They had developed an easy on air banter and it might translate to an off air fling if he allowed it.0000
September arrived which meant Janet was back teaching her college courses and working at the Green College radio station and that left even less time for Luke to 'hang out' with her, especially with Jason still in the picture - although the good news was that Jason was on the road a lot with his various sales gigs. Unfortunately, Luke couldn't stay up late on weeknights since his morning show ran from 5:30 - 10:00 Monday - Friday (he pre-recorded the Saturday morning show) so even when Jason was away Luke's opportunities with Janet were limited.
Janet invited Luke over to watch an earlier Helen Hamlett movie on DVD that he had never seen before.
"Is there a lot of naked people running all over the place in this one?" Luke asked cynically.
"No, this is more of a love story," Janet replied. "A guy receives a post card meant for the previous occupant of his apartment and he decides to find the girl who sent it."
"Chick flick," Luke groaned.
"Just one skinny dipping and shower scene."
"Oh God," Luke mumbled.
"You aged out of watching naked actresses on screen?" Janet teased as they readied the DVD to watch, aided by the popcorn and beer.
"I get a little uncomfortable watching skin with you," he admitted sheepishly.
"Why?" Janet asked innocently. "We're not sixteen."
"I guess I'm just a gentleman," Luke remarked.
"Would you hold it against me if I had done a nude scene in my younger days?" Janet wanted to know.
"You were a communications major who spent most of your career behind a radio microphone," Luke pointed out.
"I did theater," she reminded him. "We did a couple of shows together, remember?"
"I remember your clothes were on."
"I'm just saying," she said with a shrug. "I did know Helen Hamlett after all."
"Was she making nudies back then too?" Luke asked.
Luke met her eyes and she giggled at the expression on his face.
"I'm just teasing," she clarified.
They started the DVD and watched the Helen Hamlett movie. Half way through the film, Janet cuddled herself against Luke but he knew she was just being friendly and familiar and that prevented him from going any further. He felt sad regret knowing he couldn't claim her all for himself. Earlier she mentioned spending time with Jason the next day and that left Luke feeling vulnerable and lonely even with her resting against him.
"Did you like it?" Janet asked when the final credits rolled down the screen.
"It was okay," Luke reasoned.
"I think it's neat that someone we actually knew became famous," Janet remarked.
"Have you ever heard from her since Emerson?" Luke asked with a frown.
"No," Janet admitted with a sigh. "But we were kind of good friends."
"Perhaps not good enough," Luke noted as he stood. "Thanks for a great night, as always."
Janet kissed him on the cheek before leading him to the door. "Good night, Luke," she smiled.
He didn't want to leave, of course, but he knew he couldn't stay. He smiled bravely. "Do you think it's weird that it's like this for us?" He asked.
"What do you mean?"
"We meet in college, then go off and live our separate lives even though they mingled together over the years, and now here we are living whole new lives yet we're still in each other's lives," he rambled. "With adult children. And missing spouses."
"Scenes from our life," she smiled.
"Are you seriously serious about Jason?" Luke asked bluntly.
She gave him a funny look. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," he lied, chewing on his lip. "Good night, Janet."
"Good night, Luke."
He left her place and slowly walked home wondering why in the hell he didn't tell her the truth.
A few weeks passed. Luke didn't see a whole lot of Janet who was busy at work and spending time with Jason. It was late one evening when the phone rang. Luke had already gone to bed given his early mornings and he groggily answered the call.
"Hello?" He mumbled into the receiver.
"Can you come over?" It was Janet, her voice shaky and brittle.
Luke immediately knew something was wrong. A shot of anxiety rushed through his body. "Give me a minute," he said, hanging up the receiver.
He threw on a pair of sweats and some sneakers and he hurried across the several front yards to Janet's condo. Her lights were on so he rang the bell. Janet looked awful when she opened the door. It was obvious she had been crying. Her eyes were red and her mascara had dribbled down her cheeks. She was dressed in slacks and an orange sweater on this cool October night.
"What happened?" Luke asked with worry.
"Jason and I had a fight," she moaned, leaving the door and drifting into the living room where she dropped onto the couch with defeat.
Luke wasn't sure if he should be relieved or annoyed. He thought maybe her mother had died or something happened to one of her kids. But a fight with Jason? She woke him up for that!? Who cared!?
Janet was slumped on the couch looking downcast and miserable.
"What was the fight about?" Luke asked with a patient sigh, stepping further into the room.
"Helen Hamlett," Janet answered.
Luke was totally confused. "Helen Hamlett!? What are you talking about?"
Janet pointed to the coffee table where an opened manila envelope sat, along with a blank DVD case and some sort of invitation. Luke saw a couple of half drunken glasses of champagne also sitting on the table.
"That envelope came to my mother's address the other day," Janet explained.
Luke noticed the return address – HHH Productions, Los Angeles. "Helen Hamlett wrote to you?"
"She's going to do a symposium at Emerson in December," Janet announced.
"She invited me," Janet revealed sheepishly.
"Wow, that's great!" Luke beamed. "Strange how we've been talking about her and all of a sudden out of the blue you heard from her."
"I thought the same thing," Janet admitted, sounding less shaky now.
"A symposium, huh? And you're invited! I guess she really was a friend of yours after all!" Luke said with a smile.
"She's going to show a few of her recent films and some of her student film work, including My Brother's Keeper," Janet told him.
"My Brother's Keeper?" Luke was clueless.
"It was her final project senior year," Janet said. "I was in it."
Luke was blown away by the revelation. "You were in one of Helen Hamlett's student films?"
Janet nodded yes.
"How come you never told me?" Luke asked with amazement mixed with a little bit of hurt as he finally joined her on the couch.
"I never told anybody," Janet said. "Until Jason. Tonight. I thought we were going to celebrate."
"He freaked out," Janet grumbled, her eyes tearing up.
"Why would he freak out?" a confused Luke asked.
"Maybe I shouldn't tell you," Janet sighed. "I don't want you to freak out too. I couldn't handle that."
"I won't freak out," Luke promised, taking her hands in his. "We've been through too much together."
Janet sucked in her breath as she stared into Luke's eyes. "I was flattered when Helen asked if I wanted to participate in her senior thesis project," she said with a nostalgic smile. "I admired her work and I thought she was really talented."
"So what's the problem?" Luke wanted to know.
"Well, at first I hesitated because Helen said there would be nudity involved," Janet revealed.
"Uh oh," Luke groaned. Then he smirked. "Is that why you kept harassing me about all the nudity in Helen Hamlett films?"
"Helen assured me it would tastefully done,' Janet reasoned.
"So you did it?" Luke asked without judgement or accusation in his tone.
"I'd done some high school and community theater in high school and I had a cameo in one of Helen's earlier works so I wasn't a total novice but I was nervous about what she expected of me," Janet said. "She showed me the script about a sister who videotapes her semi-comatose vegetative brother who suffered a severe head injury in a skateboarding accident. The sister's hypothesis was that her brother still had sensitivities, feelings, sensations, desires, wants and needs even in his compromised state and she's determined to help him in any way she can, documenting on film his daily reactions to various stimuli."
"That sounds kind of….weird," Luke admitted.
"The sister convinces her friend - played by me - to getting naked for the brother and roll around on the bed with him in an effort to stimulate him in a new way," Janet sheepishly explained.
"Wow," a dumbfounded Luke replied. "I can't believe you never told me."
"I never told a soul," Janet said. "I felt weird about it. I mean I was proud but embarrassed too."
"When was this?" Luke asked.
"Spring break," she sighed. "Remember you were going to Daytona with Shears and some of the others? You wanted me to come but I said I had something to do."
"I remember," Luke said, reflecting back on those times. "So you were making a movie behind my back!?"
"Helen had already filmed most of the scenes including before the accident flash backs," Janet explained. "I joined the project late and we did my scenes that spring break week. To save on cost, most of my scenes were filmed outside in public areas as the sister tries to convince her friend into getting naked for her brother."
"I'm sorry I was in Daytona," Luke quipped.
"Helen wanted my character to be sweet, vulnerable and innocent," Janet said.
"Just like you back then," Luke smiled.
"Yeah, I didn't have much difficulty portraying the character," Janet admitted. "Helen said I had the girl next door look."
"Still do," Luke grinned.
"So it came to the 'big scene'," Janet sighed. "I met the guy playing the brother for the first time on the day we shot the nude stuff!"
"That must have been awkward," Luke remarked.
"We used Helen's parents' house in Quincy for the interior shots," Janet continued. "Her brother's actual old bedroom!"
"Did her parents know?"
"They both worked so that wasn't an issue," Janet said. "But I couldn't believe I agreed to appear on screen naked! There I was meeting the guy and getting ready to work my first scene with him."
"I can't believe you never told me," Luke said again.
"Of course, this was before the era of smart phones and all the rest of the modern technology crap," Janet said. "I had never sent a naked photo of myself to anybody. I never let a boyfriend videotape us having sex. Sexting was unheard of. But there I was about to get nude for cast and crew."
"Lots of people?"
"No, Helen only had a three person crew – two working the cameras and lights and one working the sound, all three of them with headsets over their ears," Janet recalled. "Two were college coeds and the third was a guy. I wasn't sure how I would feel if I saw them around campus after that."
"So, you really did it," an impressed Luke realized.
"Helen blocked the scene as she envisioned it and then we ran our lines," Janet said. "The scene starts with the sister and friend standing over the brother's bed. They strip him naked and then I get naked and join him on the bed but Helen wanted spontaneous reactions so we didn't rehearse that part. The nakedness was unscripted – Helen wanted me to cuddle with, roll on top of, underneath, and around him and he might – or might not - respond."
"You really did it!" Luke marveled.
"The sound guy held the microphone stick over the bed and the two coeds worked the cameras with Helen watching on the monitor screen," Janet explained. "This sister has this long elegant heartfelt soliloquy about how sad it was that her dear, sweet, sexy brother got robbed out of the pleasure of a woman's beauty and body. I didn't have any lines – it's all my reaction to the sister's sad yet hopeful gift for her brother."
"Helen wrote the script?" Luke asked.
"Yeah, with that guy she was seeing. I don't even remember his name now."
"I think we called him Squirrel," Luke recalled.
"The strange thing was that I found my zone during the sister's monologue and I lost myself in the scene and character," Janet said. "I don't remember taking my clothes off and I was totally unaware of the others in the room. I was the friend and there was the poor brother lying there like a naked veggie as I rubbed myself all over his limp and lifeless body, giggling and laughing as I tried to stimulate and comfort him in a non-sexual but human way. It was an acting high."
"Did he react?"
"There were a few subtle motions and ever so slight expressions on his face as I wrapped myself around him and bounced him around on the bed like he was a giant teddy bear," Janet revealed. "I remember my nipples became hard with all the rolling around and his semi-erection rubbed against my thigh but it wasn't a sex scene – it was more like an understated sensual erotic moment between two human beings."
"Lucky brother," Luke joked.
"Helen finally decided she had enough footage so she called cut," Janet continued. "I rolled off the bed and quickly dressed, suddenly totally aware of my nudeness while the brother covered himself with the sheet and prepared for a few close ups Helen wanted of the expression on his face after I was done comforting him. I had never felt such a rush of euphoria before and Helen congratulated me for a truly natural and believable performance. The others also had nothing but kind words, complimenting me and thanking me for my professionalism. I felt proud."
"I'm sorry Jason didn't," Luke told her, squeezing her hands tightly with reassurance.
"You're not upset with me?" Janet asked with surprise. "You don't think I was shameless? Disgusting? Perverted?"
"I wish I could have played the brother," Luke said with a wide smirk on his face.
Janet blushed. "I should have told you first," she said. "I thought this would turn Jason on, not turn him into a Puritan prude acting as if I was some sleaze."
"I'm guessing he wasn't happy," Luke remarked.
"He said some mean things," Janet sighed.
"I can't believe you kept this to yourself all these years," Luke remarked.
"Spring break ended I actually forgot about the project until several weeks later when Helen told me she that she was ready to present her work to her Film Professor for final grading," Janet said.
"I bet that made you feel weird," Luke smirked.
"She invited me to a private screening and I was surprised at how nervous I was about seeing it," Janet admitted. "I really enjoyed the first ten minutes of the film. The flashbacks with an alive, energetic, athletic, and funny brother allowed the audience to bond with the character. The freak skateboarding accident was filmed dramatically and emotionally and then the scenes with the sister caring for her bedridden brother are very moving."
"And then you enter," Luke guessed.
"I cringed watching myself on the screen in almost trance-like disbelief as I got naked and started rolling around on the bed," Janet confessed. "It's extremely strangely surreal to watch yourself naked on screen – my breasts bouncing around, my naked ass filling the screen looking ten times bigger than it really is, my pubs exposed for all to see along with the occasional shots of pink. I couldn't help but scrutinize both my performance and my body. I wasn't quite sure where to look and I felt self-conscious with every frame on the screen. Was that how my past lovers saw me? Was that how future audiences were going to see me?"
"I bet you were lovely," Luke let her know.
"Helen thanked me for making the film work with the bedroom scene," Janet said proudly. "She said it was believable, it was genuine, it was honest, it was real, and most of all it was sweet."
"Congratulations," Luke said in all sincerity.
"I didn't ask Helen any questions about where she showed the film or who saw it," Janet sighed. "Was it just her Professor? A review board? Fellow students? I braced myself to be verbally accosted on campus – "Hey, I saw your tits!' Or 'Nice ass' or whatever."
"How 'bout 'What a positively great performance!'?" Luke suggested.
"I actually didn't hear from anybody other than those involved in the production," Janet revealed. "I eventually went on with my life pretending none of that happened. I never told anybody about it and it wasn't until Helen made it big that I started wondering if she ever showed 'My Brother's Keeper' at film festivals or something. I'd occasionally check the internet and You Tube to see if it might show up there. What would my husband think? What would my two adult children say if they saw their mother naked on screen? A much younger mother, of course, but still….."
"And now your past has caught up to you," Luke smiled.
"Why do you think this is so funny?" Janet protested. "You've been greatly amused by this entire story."
"I'm blown away because it's like there's been this whole different side of you that nobody knew about," Luke said, grinning at her with true amazement. "What you did took courage and conviction, daring to push the envelope and break the stereotype of who you were perceived to be at the time."
"How did you perceive me?" Janet asked with interest.
"The girl next door," Luke admitted. "Sweet and innocent, nice and well-behaved."
"But you're not shocked and horrified to know what I did," she observed with confusion.
"I'm awed," Luke told her. "How many people can say they've been in a Helen Hamlett film?"
Janet smiled, relieved by his reaction. "All of a sudden you're a big Helen Hamlett fan?" she teased.
"I'm sorry Jason couldn't see the real you in all this," Luke remarked.
"I guess his male ego couldn't take it," Janet theorized, falling back on the couch.
"Let's watch the film," Luke suggested.
"I want to see it," Luke said. "I knew you back then. I knew Helen back then. I wished I had been a part of it."
"I don't know," Janet worried. "It feels kind of voyeuristic and exhibitionist to watch it with you."
"Do you want me seeing it for the first time at Helen's symposium?" He dared.
Janet bit her lip and thought about it for a few minutes before picking up the remote from the table and hitting play. Luke settled back on the couch next to her and he watched as the black screen began displaying the white credits. Then the film opened with scenes of a good looking young man enjoying life with his family, smiling and laughing, alive and energetic. He's skateboarding in a park and there's a slow motion accident. The next scene is of the guy lying in bed with his sister filming him with a camera while providing narration for the audience about her wonderful brother and her desperate desire to help him in any way possible, no matter how far-fetched or unlikely the cause.
The actress playing the sister was compassionate, dedicated and determined in her commitment to her brother."
"Who is that?" Luke asked Janet who was watching the film with fascination.
"Tammy O'Hearn was her name," Janet said. She was a student at BC."
The scene switches and Luke immediately recognized the Boston Common from thirty years ago. "Holy cow," he said.
And then twenty year old Janet Racine walked into the scene, playing the friend Nora whom the sister is able to guilt into agreeing to the idea of rolling around naked when her brain damaged brother over the course of three different conversations in three different places.
"Oh God," Janet groaned, burying her face into Luke's shoulder when the film shifted to the interior of Helen's parents' house in Quincy. The brother was lying in bed looking like a coma victim.
"Who's the actor?" Luke wondered.
"A guy named Kriston Kressman," Janet recalled. "Never saw him again after that day."
Nora and Karen the sister strip the brother Tom naked. Karen delivers her long monologue and then she walks out of camera range and is heard telling Nora what to do. Nora quietly and silently undresses and Luke watched with fascination as the naked young Janet slipped onto the bed and began rolling all over the brother and the mattress, expressing herself in erotic and exotic beauty combined with a sisterly compassion and playful rouse as she tried to elicit any sign of life from the brain damaged skate boarder.
"Look at how young you are!" Luke marveled as he watched the prolonged naked scene develop.
Janet was peeking at the television screen through her fingers that were pasted across her eyes, not quite able to comprehend that Luke was watching her 20 year old self in the nude, giggling and laughing as she rolled over, under, around, on top of, and beside the inert Tom who, at one point, flaps around like a dying fish. Nora finally finishes her little performance and slips off the bed and the camera zooms in for a close up on Tom's face which has the slightest hint of fulfillment on it before the screen faded to black.
The white credits began to roll and Luke did a double take when he saw: "Nora…Jace Luckman" roll by.
"Jace Luckman?" He asked with surprise.
"I wasn't about to use my real name!" Janet replied.
"You used my last name!?" Luke asked with disbelief.
She shrugged. "It seemed like a nice name."
Luke was stunned. "I'm flattered," he said with true sincerity and emotion in his voice.
"I'd say I was pretty lucky to have you as a friend," she said.
"A friend," he sighed.
"Back then," Janet clarified. "It was like watching a completely different person in that movie."
"It was a long time ago," Luke agreed.
"Were we ever really that young?" She sighed.
"We've both changed a lot and went through a lot since then."
"We've lived complete lives," Janet agreed.
"Are you going to break up with Jason?" Luke wanted to know.
Janet opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. Her tongue was tied in a knot. Luke leaned over and gave her a warm hug.
"Are we still only friends?" Luke asked.
"I...I...I..." Janet moaned softly into his ear.
"Break up with him," Luke whispered. "He'll never appreciate you the way I do."
"You liked the movie?"
"Definitely Helen Hamlett's best," Luke grinned.
"You usually hate the nudity in her movies," Janet reminded him.
"Not this time," Luke freely admitted.
"I don't look like that anymore," she warned.
"You look better," he said, kissing the tip of her nose.
"I do not," she sighed.
"You do," he reassured her, gently rubbing her arm.
"My life was going without much drama but now this happens and I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel."
"Looks like you were going to have a party when the night started," Luke observed, glancing at the champagne glasses. "You must have felt pretty good."
"I felt young," Janet admitted. "Now I feel stupid."
"You should feel proud," Luke said. "You were wonderful in that movie."
"Oh yeah?" she asked, her lips turning into a subtle smile.
"Yes," Luke said, feeling closer to her now than ever before.
He rubbed her face lovingly knowing he was finally ready to fully commit to Janet and to let Rosemary rest in peace. Janet lifted her hand up and held his hand in hers as he continued stroking her cheek.
"I love you," he said.
"I know," she said quietly. "But I'm terribly embarrassed and ashamed. Feeling guilty even."
"I don't know why," he said.
"How can I look you in the eye after what you saw?"
"You've never let me down, Janet," Luke told her. "You never could."
She looked at him shyly. "Forgive me for never telling you, Luke," she pleaded. "I guess I was afraid."
"I understand," Luke replied. "It was personal for you. You were entitled to your secrets. Everybody has parts of themselves they want to keep to themselves."
"Sooner or later, our past always comes back to bite us in the ass," Janet sighed.
"Don't worry, your ass is just fine," Luke grinned.
"Luke," she whispered. "You are so dear to me."
"I want to be with you," he told her.
"Do you trust me?" She needed to know.
"Okay," she said with relief.
"I'm sorry it took so long," he sighed.
"You were grieving," she acknowledged, running her hand through his hair.
"Are you ready for a life with me?" Luke asked.
"I've already had a life with you," she answered. "I love you, Luke."
He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into him. She pressed her lips to his and kissed him warmly.
"You'll go the symposium with me?" Janet asked hopefully.
"Of course," he smiled.
"And you won't mind other people seeing me on the big screen with no clothes on?"
"Of course not," He smirked. "It's called acting. You were her brother's keeper."
"Do you want to stay tonight?" Janet asked quietly.
"Yes," he said. "Let's go upstairs and do that scene again."
She giggled. "Can you play a comatose naked man?"
"I'd like to try!"
She laughed and took him by the hand, pulling him off the couch with her as they headed for the stairs.
"I'm a good brother's keeper," Janet bragged proudly.