I always worried my strange habit would keep people away from me.

I’ve always been self-conscious about my thumb sucking problem. And it is a problem. Most kids either grow out of it or have the habit gently coaxed away by attentive parents or counselors. My upbringing was different, though. I never grew out of it. I never saw my parents for more than a couple hours every week. They’d be so busy with work that the only people I’d see on a regular basis were the servants and housekeepers. God knows they weren’t going to correct the habits of their employer’s only son. The heir to the family fortune.

Maybe if I had friends or family members around, I would’ve matured normally. That opportunity is long gone, though. I think my habit is a plea for security; having no real comfort or warmth in my life probably leads me to engage in such an infantile practice. I’m 20 – way too old to be doing something as immature as thumb sucking, but here I am. I never expected anything to change for the better.

When my parents died in that car fire, I was the only one left. I was 15 years old, wealthy beyond my comprehension, and aside from the servants, the only one in a home that would be better referred to as a palace. The servants doted on me like they’d been taught to. My tutors came and left on schedule. No one dared to tell me to get a social life or interact with the world around me. They left me in peace with my laptop and video games. For all they knew – for all I knew – I’d be browsing and playing alone until the day I died.

Like I said before, I’m 20 now. Until recently, my life continued the way I’d expected. Then I met Aria. Aria is the daughter of one of the servants. She’s younger than me, probably 16 or 17. But she’s the first person who ever took interest in me on a personal level, rather than just going through the motions of servant-to-master interaction. When her mother, whose name I don’t even know, found out, she was very angry with her daughter and apologized to me profusely. I was assured Aria wouldn’t bother me again. I said it was okay. I allowed Aria to visit as frequently as she wished.

We quickly grew close, and it didn’t take long before Aria brought up my habit. I was mortified. I didn’t realize I’d been doing it while she talked to me. I slid the wrinkled, saliva drenched thumb out of my mouth and clenched my fist around it in some halfhearted attempt to hide my shame. Aria told me not to be embarrassed. She took my hand in her own and gently unballed my fist. As I watched in disbelief, my heart pounding so powerfully I worried she’d hear it, Aria took the still-wet thumb in her own mouth.

You have to realize something: I’d never even hugged a person aside from my mother when I was a child. This was a level of intimacy I’d never expected to see in person, let alone participate in. I shuddered with nervous excitement. Aria stopped what she was doing and asked if I was okay. I nodded and told her I just needed to get some air. I left her on the couch.

I stood on the balcony and gazed at the city below. I realized it was the first time I’d been outside in months. While the fresh air loosened my tension and helped clear my head, I felt Aria come up behind me and wrap an arm around my waist. I jumped a little at the contact.

“Shhh,” Aria told me. “It’s okay.” She knew I was nervous, but the feeling was dissipating. I felt comfortable with her. Comfortable enough to engage in my habit without feeling like a baby.

I brought my hand to my mouth. My head spun when I tasted the remains of her saliva on the wrinkled digit. I sucked with purpose, wanting to swallow what had been inside her mere minutes ago. I sucked harder. I felt the nail come off and stick to the roof of my mouth but I didn’t care. My tongue sought out the virgin flesh underneath. Aria turned me around to face her, and our eyes locked.

“Please let me help you,” she whispered. Before I could oblige, the door opened on the other side of the room. A servant came in, pushing a cart with a tray on it. She kept her head down, apologizing for interrupting me.

“I’m sorry sir,” she muttered, “but perhaps you’d prefer a fresh one?” The servant removed the cloche from the tray and revealed 10 severed thumbs, neatly arranged in order of skin color. I dragged the old thumb from my mouth. I’d used it for over a day and the skin was beginning to slough from the bone. Aria looked at the tray with excitement. “Can we share these?,” she asked. I grinned at her, then noticed the bandage on the servant’s left hand. She quickly hid it behind her back.

“We had trouble finding a tenth one, sir,” the servant informed me. “I’m sorry, truly, if mine is not good enough.”

“Which one is it?,” I asked. She pointed to the third one from the end. I picked it up and handed it to Aria. She looked at it for a moment, then slid it into her mouth. Her lips formed a smile around the dark digit.

I dismissed the servant. Aria and I stood on the balcony, quietly sucking our thumbs. I felt her hand wrap around mine and she leaned her head against my shoulder. I beamed with happiness. Finally, a chance to live a normal life.

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