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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 13-year-old boy, and I have a 5-year-old sister. Our parents are together, but Dad's job was relocated to another state and he's gone most of the week. When he gets home, all he and Mom do is fight.

The fighting puts a lot of stress on me. My sister asks me, "Why are Mommy and Daddy always fighting?" This makes me want to break into tears because I don't know what to tell her. Abby, please help me understand what to do in these situations. -- WORRIED BIG BROTHER

DEAR BIG BROTHER: You should not have to be in the position of explaining your parents' deplorable behavior to your little sister. While you can assure her that the fighting has absolutely nothing to do with her -- or you -- the people who should be quieting your sister's fears are your parents. Please waste no time in telling them how upset your little sister becomes when she hears the quarreling, and that it makes you want to break down and cry, too. It's something they need to hear.

DEAR ABBY: My uncle remarried a few years ago to an interior decorator I'll call "Fern." I asked her about getting some drapes made, and she came over and spent a couple of hours discussing styles, colors, trims and fabrics. I had my eye on some curtains that cost about $30 a pair, so I was shocked when Fern gave me an estimate of $12,000. (And that included my "family discount"!) Needless to say, I didn't get the drapes.

Last week -– a year and a half later -– I received a bill for $200. Fern enclosed a note with the bill saying she had thought I was still undecided about the drapes, but now that she realizes I'm not purchasing them, she should be compensated for her time. I feel I should have been told in advance that I'd be charged for the consultation, but she never mentioned it. What should I do? –- WINDOW DRESSING IN N.J.

DEAR WINDOW DRESSING: As I see it, you have two choices: Pay the bill or write it off and risk jeopardizing your relationship with your uncle. If you value your relationship with him, you'll pay the money (in installments, if necessary) and keep your distance from his wife.

P.S. You are right. You should have been told in advance that she'd charge you a consultation fee. Shame on her.

DEAR ABBY: I recently visited family I haven't seen in a long time. They had urged me to come and bring my baby so we could spend time with them. While we were there, we had some good conversations, but they had their TV on, so a lot of the time their eyes were glued to the television screen and no one was talking.

I wanted to say something because I had traveled so far -– at their request -– and they just sat there like zombies much of the time.

Is it rude to have the TV on when you invite guests to your home? Would I have been out of line to have said something to them, rather than stewing about it later? -– TUBED OUT IN KENTUCKY

DEAR TUBED OUT: The answer to both of your questions is yes. While they were rude to have kept the television on during your visit, it would have been equally rude for you to have called them on their bad manners.

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