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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are friends with a couple who constantly weasel out of paying their share when we socialize with them. They're part of a large group we spend time with, as opposed to one-on-one. They have good jobs, new cars, and probably more in savings than all of us other couples combined.

This couple gets a kick out of telling us that they go to happy hour at local bars to fill up on free pretzels and popcorn so they don't have to buy dinner. They also brag that they attend parties so they can eat for free.

They tell us they don't like Chinese food, but when several couples are going out for Chinese, they insist on being included. When it's time to order, they share one order of fried rice and ask to "try" each of our dishes, which winds up being a full plate of food. When the bill arrives, they pay only for their one dish of fried rice. They even joke about the fact they had sampled everyone else's food, and laughingly ask if they should pay a part of everyone's order. Of course, no one takes them up on the sarcastic offer.

The Mrs. planned a surprise birthday party for the Mister at an expensive steakhouse. When the bill arrived, she initiated the breakdown of the bill by saying, "Now you don't really have to pay for us ..." Well, not only did we pay for the "birthday boy"; the birthday party was a free meal at an expensive steakhouse for both of them.

Last month we received an invitation to their house for a holiday party. The invitation read, "Bring your favorite hors d'oeuvres and beverages." When we got the invitation, all of us laughed, saying they're the only people who could have a party at their house that would cost them nothing!

Should we stop socializing with them? My husband and I think they're nice people, but no longer feel we can subject ourselves to the unnecessary frustration every time we see them. How would this affect our relationship with the other couples? -- ALWAYS SHELLING OUT IN ARIZONA

DEAR SHELLING OUT: Nice people? Those professional freeloaders have turned taking advantage of others into an art form. Before you allow yourselves to be taken advantage of again by Mr. and Mrs. Freebie, ask yourselves what you really have in common with them. I'm betting it's very little.

As for your relationships with the other couples in the group, I'm sure that at least some of them are as fed up with the Freebies as you are and would also like to do some socializing without them.

DEAR ABBY: Everyone needs a grandmother like ours. She was 86 years old when she passed away. She was in bed the last 15 years of her life, but always had a smile on her face.

She played board games with us, and every Christmas she made all of us something. She had 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I am going to miss her.

She would tell us stories of her life and raising her daughters. Boy, what a life she had!

Please tell all grandchildren to enjoy their grandparents as long as possible. Thank you. -- WESTLEY (AGE 11), SUN VALLEY, CALIF.

DEAR WESTLEY: What a warm and loving tribute to your grandmother. How proud she would be that you wrote about her. I hope your letter will provide an incentive to people of every age to reach out to relatives they love. They are God's gift to us, just as we are to them.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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