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DEAR ABBY: How can I get my stepfather to stop hitting me? He's never caused permanent damage, but it hurts! I don't want my mom to know about it because she loves my stepdad. Plus, he supports my mother and me financially. Before Mom married him four years ago, we had to live with my grandparents because we had no money. Everything would be OK now if I could just find a way of making him stop hitting me. Do you have any suggestions? -- SAD GIRL IN DENVER

DEAR SAD GIRL: Your stepfather should not be hitting you. Please tell your mother ASAP. You are being physically abused, and it must be stopped.

If your mother is unable to stop the abuse, call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 422-4453 ((800) 4-A-CHILD). Also, there is the Girls and Boys Town National Hotline at (800) 448-3000. Tell the counselor you talk to what you have written to me. All calls are confidential.

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Heartbroken in Texas," whose 16-year-old son committed suicide, I would like to share a story with a happier ending. "Heartbroken" couldn't understand why her son's friends didn't alert her.

Three years ago, when my son, "John," and his best friend, "Mike," were young teenagers, I overheard a disturbing phone conversation. My son was saying, "Mike, don't do this! In five or six years none of this stuff will mean anything to you. It will just be a memory!" Later, John came to me and said, "Mom, you have to help Mike. He's talking about committing suicide, and nothing I say seems to help. Last night, he put a rope around his neck to see how it feels."

Although my son had been "sworn to secrecy," he realized someone had to alert Mike's parents. I did -- and soon Mike was in counseling and on anti-depressants. Mike is now a happy teenager with a bright future, and he and my son have an even stronger friendship.

I'm proud of my son for trusting me enough to confide in me so I could intervene. Troubled young people tell their friends because they ARE reaching out for help. As long as parents have a history of trust and communication with their children, we will have more "happier endings." -- THANKFUL MOM IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR THANKFUL MOM: Congratulations on raising a son who knew that saving a life was more important than keeping a secret.

DEAR ABBY: I have seen articles that list questions a person should ask his or her partner before becoming engaged, to ensure a happy marriage.

What do you think the most important questions are, Abby? -- YOUNG LADY WHO NEEDS TO KNOW IN MEMPHIS

DEAR YOUNG LADY: Topics to discuss should include:

1. Are you ready for a monogamous relationship?

2. Are you both ready to establish a family independent of your parents?

3. Are you both self-supporting and capable of supporting each other and any children that come along should the need arise?

4. Are your philosophies about child-rearing and discipline similar?

5. Are your career goals compatible?

6. Do you think alike about sex, religion and politics?

If the answers to the majority of these questions are "yes," then your marriage will probably endure with little conflict.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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