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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I recently attended a play with my mother and daughter. We were looking forward to an evening together. After we were seated, a young girl and her mother came and sat directly behind us. The girl was sick and she coughed -- hacked, really -- throughout the entire performance. Not only was it disturbing, but the coughing was so loud we missed a lot of the dialogue.

Those tickets were not cheap and we did not enjoy the play as much as we could have. What would have been the proper way to handle that situation? -- ANNOYED THEATERGOER IN CHICAGO

DEAR ANNOYED: Unless the house was sold out, you should have spoken to an usher or the theater manager and asked to be seated elsewhere. And if you were concerned about catching something, you should have asked to exchange the tickets for another performance and left.

DEAR ABBY: I have an ex-boyfriend with whom I have remained friends since we broke up two years ago. We see each other a few times a year, but I haven't seen him in six months.

Last Christmas, as a gift, I bought him a bottle of wine I know he enjoys. I have mentioned several times that we should get together so I can give it to him, but he is making no effort to hang out.

At what point do I put the bottle to better use and drink it myself? -- MIKE IN ST. PAUL

DEAR MIKE: How about tonight? And be sure to share it with someone who will appreciate your company as well as the wine.

DEAR ABBY: I am the mother of a beautiful daughter who has never met her real father. I wasn't sure about who he was, a fact I'm not proud of. I tried to convince myself that her dad was the one guy I really liked at the time, but as she has grown older, many of her mannerisms and little habits reflect characteristics of the other guy ("Bobby") who was also in my life then. I parted ways with both men while I was pregnant.

I am currently married, although we are struggling. I am now questioning whether I should try to locate Bobby to see if he is the father. I don't expect anything from him, but I would like a resolution. This could strain my relationship with my husband, but if Bobby is the father, I strongly feel he has a right to know. Please help me figure out what to do. -- UNSURE IN ILLINOIS

DEAR UNSURE: Because you are willing to risk straining the relationship you have with your current husband, explain to him that you need to be sure of the identity of your daughter's father because the man's medical history could one day be important for her to have. It's the truth.

Then contact both men you were seeing at the time of her conception, explain the situation, and request a DNA test. If you let them know that you don't expect anything from them but their medical history, they may be willing to comply -- and you'll have your answer.

DEAR ABBY: May I share another "pennies from heaven" story you might find interesting?

My oldest sister was very sick in the hospital, and I was heading there during the mid-morning. When I got to my car, I glanced down at the curb. I spotted a penny lying there, picked it up and glanced at my wristwatch. It was 10:30.

When I arrived at the hospital, I saw her son and daughter-in-law holding each other and crying. When I ran to them, they told me Mary was gone. She had died at 10:30. -- LILLIAN C., BOCA RATON, FLA.

DEAR LILLIAN: How poignant. It appears she couldn't leave you without saying goodbye.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)