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DEAR ABBY: My co-worker, "Kay," has the world's worst work ethic. She chats on the phone and e-mails her friends, plays games online, reads the paper, balances her checkbook all day long on company time.

Our office manager encourages us to work independently, so no one looks over our shoulders. My problem is I need Kay's daily reports and summaries before I can complete my projects. Every week I give her a list of deadlines but she disregards them. (She's too busy playing online solitaire.) When a deadline is missed, it becomes my fault, even though Kay is the cause.

I tried talking the problem over with our manager (without trashing Kay). Unfortunately, he didn't get the message and nothing has changed.

Coming to work used to make me happy. Now it fills me with dread because every day is a fight for survival. I am overwhelmed and swamped trying to overcompensate for my irresponsible co-worker. I'm tired of working my tail off while she messes around. Please help me resolve this in the most professional way possible. -- STRESSED-OUT IN OHIO

DEAR STRESSED-OUT: Talk to your manager again, and this time be direct. It's time to stop protecting the guilty. Your future with the company may depend on it.

Keep your manager current on the status of your work. This way, he will understand in advance that you're not being given the data you need to complete your task -- and it will provide some much-needed insight to management.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 49-year-old man happily married to my wife for 22 years. Before we met, I had an intimate relationship with a college sweetheart I'll call Amy.

Last summer, on a whim, I wrote Amy to find out how her life has turned out. Like me, she's been happily married for more than 20 years. Amy and I have since exchanged e-mails, family photos and a few phone calls -- strictly platonic. We live on opposite coasts and have no interest in rekindling our old romance. We just want to keep in touch.

The problem: I made the mistake of telling my wife that Amy and I have been "catching up," and to my surprise she said I was acting inappropriately for a married man. Tell me, Abby: Just because I'm married, do I need to give up all contact with former lovers and friends? Sign me ... WRONGLY ACCUSED IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR WRONGLY ACCUSED: A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that college romance fizzled. Perhaps what has made your wife uneasy is the frequency of the e-mails and phone calls. Talk to her about it and see if you can reach a compromise. A card at holiday time would not seem inappropriate, but more than that does seem unfair to your wife, especially if it bothers her.

DEAR ABBY: My girlfriend, "Alana," and I have been dating for three months. (She is 16 and I'm 18.) I am about to meet her parents for the first time. My problem is I have a 10-month-old daughter from a previous relationship. Should I tell them I have a kid? Alana says her mom and dad would make us break up if they knew. I like Alana a lot, Abby. What should I do? -- NEEDS AN ANSWER IN ONTARIO, CANADA

DEAR NEEDS AN ANSWER: Meet your girlfriend's parents and let them get to know you for the wonderful person that you are -- but do NOT leave their house without leveling with them. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions about your obligations to the baby and the mother of your child. You should be given credit for honesty and for not hiding the truth.

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