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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last March, my best friend, "Emma," and I opened a business together.

We had a falling out three weeks ago and haven't spoken since. She's very stubborn and can't admit when she's wrong. On a hunch, I called the 24-hour banking service for our business account. Lo and behold, the balance was zero. A week ago it held more than $200. I checked further. There have been four ATM transactions in the last two weeks –- all withdrawals. One was done at a store where business was more than likely done; however, the others were done at the supermarket.

Abby, we were best friends –- or so I thought. I feel Emma stole the money. She didn't let me know we owed people who had helped us get started, so of course I have to pay them back.

I am so angry and hurt I don't know what to do. Our friendship is over. I'm really going to miss that because Emma was like a sister to me. I don't know what to do from here -– take her to court, scream at her, tell the world or just let it go. Your thoughts, please. -– STEPPED ON AND USED IN N.J.

DEAR USED: Now that you have vented, call your former business partner and ask her to account for the money that was supposed to be in the business account. She MAY have had a legitimate reason for withdrawing the funds.

You did not indicate how much money you feel obligated to pay back to the individuals who helped the two of you start the business. Since it was a partnership, you should not be on the hook for more than 50 percent of it. Add to it the money that should have been left in the joint account. If it's more than you can comfortably afford to lose, by all means take her to small claims court. If not, consider this an expensive introductory course in business accounting and safeguarding your investment –- and write her off.

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I have been annoyed by something for some time. We have a few friends who visit us at least twice a week. They insist upon hugging at every greeting and goodbye. Whether at my house, in public or elsewhere -– hugs are expected.

Should we just grin and bear the excessive hugging? Or should we avoid the hug and address the issue with them? –- OVERHUGGED IN LONG BEACH, CALIF.

DEAR OVERHUGGED: Tell your friends, as kindly as possible, that not all people are equally demonstrative –- and that all the hugging they take for granted makes you uncomfortable. Assure them of your caring and friendship, and ask them to please understand. If they are true friends, they will.

DEAR ABBY: When writing thank-you notes, how do you deal with gifts from a group of people? Do you write an individual thank-you to each person who signed the card, or can you send a "group" thank-you? -– TRAECY IN CLACKAMAS, ORE.

DEAR TRAECY: Much depends upon how many people make up the "group." For example, if the group comprises approximately 25 to 30 or more people, one thank-you note would be sufficient.

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