“I’m pregnant,” Lancaster said.
His heart pounded inside his chest and his blood rushed through his ears. In his lap, his hands were clasped together, sweating profusely. Every time he moved his hands, they slipped off each other.
Jerome hadn’t reacted at all. Lancaster wondered if he’d even heard him. Jerome sat behind his desk, leaning back in his chair slightly. His chiseled jaw was clenched tight; his eyes were shadowed from his furrowed brow; and his steepled fingers were pressed tight against each other. In every sense of the word, Jerome looked stern. He was often mean to men of lower rank than himself, and if he ever felt threatened, he would assert his dominance however he could.
Lancaster was terrified of him most of the time. When they had first met, Lancaster had been in awe of this strong, confident man leading him through his Army career. Eventually, after they had become a couple, his admiration turned to fear. Lancaster considered Jerome an awful human being and severely regretted ever getting involved with him.
Lancaster’s eyes were stinging from the tears. He’d been crying for hours—ever since he got the devastating news—and now his eyeballs felt as though they were on fire. Jerome continued to stare at Lancaster, brooding. Birds were chirping outside—Lancaster could hear them in the distance, frolicking in the sunlight, leading happy lives. He, however, was stuck in the dark office, sniffling and wiping his cheeks free of tears.
Finally, Jerome sat forward and put his clasped hands on the desk. He leaned forward, his dark eyes glowering. Lancaster could barely look at him, too afraid.
“Well,” Jerome said, his deep voice humming through the office. “You know that male pregnancy is… frowned upon by the Army, shall we say?”
Lancaster’s eyes filled with fresh tears.
“We’ll have a medical professional examine you and… confirm… your suspicions.” Jerome sighed. “Then, we’ll be forced to discharge you.”
A lump formed in Lancaster’s throat as an image of his future flashed before his eyes: single father, living in a dirty, disgusting studio apartment, barely able to afford food for his newborn baby. Lancaster looked down to his knees as he considered the alternative option. Within a second, he had turned his back on the idea—he had created the life inside of him, and it was his responsibility now.
“Such a shame,” Jerome said, feigning sadness. “You had such a promising career ahead of you. Now what do you have?”
The words cut through Lancaster’s heart, tearing it apart. He knew it was true—he had been noticed by higher ranked officers and they had all told him he was going to go places and do great things—but he’d gotten himself knocked up instead.
“I’ll handle it from here,” Jerome said sharply. “I’ll make sure you’re taken care of from now on.”
“Please,” Lancaster begged his voice barely more than a whimper. “Please, Jerome. Please help me.”
Jerome laughed softly. “Help you with what? Are you willing to get rid of the baby?”
“No!” Lancaster frowned in shock. “No.”
“Then how am I supposed to help?” Jerome asked, leaning back in his chair once more. “If you’re unwilling to help yourself then my hands are tied. You will be discharged and escorted off-base.”
“Please,” Lancaster begged again, his eyes filling with tears almost instantly. “Please, I can’t do this; I can’t be a single father.”
Jerome smirked at Lancaster. “You’re a resourceful young man, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.”
Lancaster felt his chin wobble as the tears poured down his cheeks, leaving a warm, wet trail behind them. Jerome had his mind made up already and there was nothing that Lancaster could do to change it.
“If that’s all you needed from me?” Jerome asked as he rose from his desk.
“No,” Lancaster said quickly. “No, please, Jerome. If you have any love left for me, please help me.”
Jerome snorted at him. “The baby isn’t mine,” he said sharply. “Obviously. So, why should I help you?”
Lancaster’s eyes stung fiercely as he looked up to his ex-boyfriend, the only man to ever love him.
“I thought as much. You have no reasonable answer for me.” Jerome waved his hand toward the door. “Now, please get out of my office.”
There was nothing else Lancaster could do but comply. As he stood from the chair, he took one last look at Jerome: he saw the face of the man who used to love him, the face that he thought would always be there to help and protect him. Jerome’s eyes were black and cold, when once they used to sparkle when Lancaster stared into them. Large, hard hands that used to roam Lancaster’s body were clasped tightly behind Jerome’s back.
There was no love left in him, not now. The realization hit Lancaster like a truck. He lowered his head and left the office, fighting back even more tears.
* * *
It didn’t take them long to come for him. Lancaster was prepared. He’d already packed his meager belongings into a backpack. When the fateful knock came on his door, his stomach dropped down to his feet. As he went to the door, his mind was a mess of thoughts. What was his life going to look like after today? Where was he going to go? Who could he turn to in his time of need?
As he opened his front door, he glanced down to the bag next to his feet before turning his eyes up. Four faces stared back at him. Jerome was there—a familiar face—but everyone else was new to him. Two of the men were from base security. They were tall and pale-skinned, with wide shoulders and thick necks. Their hair was clipped short, just like Lancaster’s own, and their uniforms were neatly pressed and immaculately clean. Lancaster understood why security was there, but there was no need for it. He wasn’t going to kick up a fuss and considering his exemplary record, he thought they would know that, too.
“Is it time?” Lancaster asked.
Jerome nodded, smirking a little. “Time for you to leave.”
Lancaster grabbed hold of his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He tried to step out of the house, onto the porch, but it was difficult. There were five of them in a very small space and it seemed like they didn’t expect him to go so easily. The security guards glanced to each other, concerned, before stepping down the porch steps. Jerome scowled at Lancaster, refusing to move out of his way.
It was clear Jerome had been bad mouthing Lancaster, telling the guards horror stories about his temper or his outbursts, no doubt. Ever since they had broken up, Lancaster had heard rumors about his supposed problems. All the rumors led back to Jerome, as far as he could tell. Instead of making him angry, it just made Lancaster sad. Jerome obviously hadn’t handled the break-up well and had lashed out in the only way he knew how—by trying to ruin Lancaster’s reputation.
Luckily, for Lancaster, he just didn’t care. They passed through the base; all five of them walking in a group, and everyone seemed to stop what they were doing to stare. Lancaster watched as his neighbors whispered to one another, pointing to him as he passed by their houses. He was sad his career was over, and he was deeply concerned about his future, but he couldn’t conjure up any feelings about being ejected from the base which he called home.
Eyes followed him as he walked toward the entrance. Then the men around him ushered him into the small office next to the gate. Jerome stood by the door, his arms folded, as Lancaster was forced to sign documents. A lot of them were to do with his discharge—consent forms stating that he was aware that due to the terms of his discharge that he might be subject to discrimination and disqualification from services—but most of them were the military wiping their hands of him.
Once everything was signed and initialed, Lancaster was thrust toward the gate. All four of the men stood around him, waiting for him to leave. A hard lump formed in Lancaster’s throat as he looked to Jerome.
“You could have helped,” Lancaster said, his voice shaking as he spoke.
Jerome laughed, his arms still folded across his chest. “Why would I do that? You made your bed.”
Lancaster looked down as his chin began to wobble. “Right,” he said sadly. “My own fault.”
For a moment, Lancaster considered making a scene. He could start screaming, shouting, throwing punches. He could drop his backpack and start attacking everyone in sight. It would feel good, he knew it would, but at the same time, he knew that he would just get into more trouble. He’d already signed the papers, so they couldn’t throw him into military prison, but they could arrest him anyway. He was a civilian now and that meant that the Army wouldn’t come to his aid when he was in trouble.
For the first time in years, he was alone in the world. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters in arms, he didn’t have a support network of friends and families living the same life as himself. He had been ejected from the club, ejected from the life, all because he had gotten pregnant.
“Bye, guys,” Lancaster said sadly.
Then he turned on his heels and walked out the gate, out into the real world. He didn’t have a car, or any mode of transport, so the only thing he could do was walk. The streets were lined with people, hustling and bustling in their busy lives. Most of them didn’t pay him any attention, but ones that saw him leaving the military base gave him a curt nod or a salute. Seeing these men and women silently thank him for his service felt wonderful and awful at once. If they knew he’d been discharged less than honorably, they wouldn’t be saluting him.
As he trudged through the streets, making his way toward the sprawling city, there was only one thing on his mind: where was he going to go? Georgia was no place for him—he had no family here, no friends. He was alone, isolated. Trying to get a job would be a nightmare, with no strings to pull or friends to ask.
He walked for hours, not wanting to spend what little money he had on a bus, as he tried to decide where to go. The most logical place was to go home, back to Minnesota. There he’d be able to get a job and support himself until the baby came, and after that… well, he’d have time to figure that out. He glanced down to his stomach. He wasn’t even showing yet, not really. His abdomen looked a little swollen to him, but it was his body. Nobody else would be able to tell, not yet.
There was a long trip ahead of him—long and expensive. It was all he could concentrate on as he made his way closer to Atlanta. Buses shuttled up to Minnesota all the time, Lancaster knew he would have to jump on one of those and endure the twenty-seven hour trip if he ever wanted to lead a good life. This was the only way. No matter how much it upset him to go back home, he had to do it. For himself, and for his baby.