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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from "Concerned in Northbrook," where the 14-year-old niece was instructed to stay home alone and let the tile man in, I feel compelled to share my story.

My former husband, "Steve," seemed attractive, gentle and polite. While working as an installer for a nationwide security company, he lured a 14-year-old girl into his van and sexually assaulted her. Her parents' determination to shield their daughter enabled Steve to plea-bargain a prison sentence of only eight months. After his release, Steve returned to work as an installer for a satellite TV company and currently works for another security company, installing systems in homes.

Although he is a registered sex offender, no one would ever guess Steve is a pedophile. His parole officer told me that he shouldn't be around children. Can you imagine leaving your 14-year-old daughter home alone to let in my charming former husband? -- ALSO CONCERNED IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR ALSO CONCERNED: Your warning is chilling. Parents, please take note and take nothing for granted. Better to be overly cautious than not cautious enough.

DEAR ABBY: I just turned 13. My best friend, "Heather," moved an hour away, and we have kind of drifted apart. On Saturday, I ran into her at my friend "Tanya's" house here in town. We all went to the mall, and Heather met "Johnny," a 16-year-old guy who goes to my school.

Well, Johnny came back to Tanya's house (her parents weren't home), and he and Heather were all over each other. They were hot and heavy on the couch while Tanya and I tried to watch TV. To make a long story short, Johnny and Heather ended up having sex right there in the same room with us. I couldn't believe what I was seeing -- they hadn't known each other more than a few hours.

The news about Johnny and Heather spread fast. Everyone wants to know if I still consider Heather my friend. Kids are calling her "easy," along with other names I won't mention.

As much as I want to be her friend, I'm worried about getting a bad reputation if I stick up for her. Plus, I'm scared my mom will hear about what went on that day. What should I do? -- STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT IN A TEXAS TOWN

DEAR STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT: Tell the truth. Say that you and Heather used to be close friends, but since she moved away you're not close anymore.

P.S. I hope you WILL tell your mother what happened that day. Heather's mother needs to know that her daughter is sexually active, and vulnerable to STDs and pregnancy. It will be doing Heather a tremendous favor, and help her to avoid a lot of trouble in the near future.

DEAR ABBY: I've just had the most dreaded of all shopping trips: the New Bra Expedition. No woman over the age of 12 looks forward to it. I'd rather strip and wax a kitchen floor.

Now brassiere manufacturers have made things worse by placing the strap length adjustment in the BACK of the bra. What were they thinking? Why not move the opening to the back of men's briefs -- it makes just as much sense.

I'd be interested in hearing from other women about this lunacy. Abby, dear, let's start a campaign to return sanity to women's underwear. -- DOUBLE-JOINTED IN DAYTON

DEAR DOUBLE-JOINTED: I'll join you on the bandwagon because I too sometimes wonder whether certain garments have been designed by men without first consulting women.

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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