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Before Mike, every boyfriend had been a neighborhood boyfriend, a school boyfriend or a sugar daddy. Mike was the first guy with whom Falicia felt both a commitment and a connection. Mike was a man, one who bought cases of diapers at Sam's Club and made her hair appointments.
Looking back, Falicia says, "He was buttering me. He was really investing. That's all he was doing. And I was sucking it up. He was sweet for a long time."
FEBRUARY 2001-AUGUST 2002
Mike had just picked Falicia up from a night of work at the club, not Dancer's Elite but Body Tap, a way better gig. Falicia could make two, sometimes three times as much money dancing there.
As Mike drove her home that night, she was rattling off the day's events, as usual.
Lately, Mike had been urging her to find a way to make more money. "Well, um, Mama" - he'd taken to calling her that - "you only make like $300 a night." To get out of Atlanta and get out right, to set up a life someplace where she could have his babies and be out of the clubs for good, she needed to do a little extra. "I'm going to need you to help me," he said. "You know, this is about me and you, me and you trying to make it."
Making it meant she needed to bring home at least $700 a night.
"How am I just going to bring home $700 a night just by dancing?" she said. "I ain't got it like that."
"I don't know," he told her. "You think about it."
It won't take that long, she told herself. Plenty of men had brought her propositions in the past. She'd gotten offers of as much as $500 for one thing or another. She'd always demurred. "Nah, I can't do it. I'm not ready for that."
But earlier tonight, thinking about what Mike had been telling her about the $700, she'd given a different answer to a man at the club. They didn't get far. She pulled him into the VIP room. He told her he didn't have a rubber. He said he'd go to the gas station and get one. He never showed back up.
As she explained all this to Mike, he slowed the car and pulled into a parking lot. "Well, that's my fault," he told her. "That means I'll have to start getting you some rubbers to put in your bag." He parked.
"Get out of the car, baby," he said.
She did. He came around to her side. He punched her in the face, hard. She spun, stopping herself in time to keep her head from crashing into the passenger window. She grabbed her face, to block him. He kept hitting. She started cussing. He hit harder. Then he opened the door .
"Get back in."
Falicia checked her bloodied lip in the passenger-side mirror. Mike put the key in the ignition and continued the drive home. He reached over and rubbed her shoulder.
"Mama, you know we trying to get this money. So why would you let somebody go?"
"Hold on, Mike. You tell me to protect myself, but when I tell you that the man didn't have no rubber, that's why we didn't date, I still get jumped?"
He promised he wouldn't react like that again. She figured he was just mad.
The next time a guy at the club asked for a date, Falicia played hard for his money. She grew comfortable finding men at the club who'd pay to sleep with her.
But she also began complaining to Mike that she wanted to see more of Mikaele, who'd been staying overnight at the babysitter's most of the week. So Mike brought in a nanny. Her name was Venus. She was his ex.
Mike, Falicia, Mikaele and Venus moved into a one-bedroom apartment at the Clairmont Lodge in Decatur. Venus took care of Mikaele and drove Falicia around. The women inevitably got to talking.
"He ever did you like that?" Venus asked Falicia one night when Mike wasn't around. She'd been describing how Mike once got so mad he filled a bathtub and held her under water, then beat her so bad she had to spend the night at Grady Memorial Hospital.