Maihan Phan

The Same Souls Find Each Other

History has always been one of Euphie’s best subjects on the account that she lived through a majority of it. Art history, however, was the subject she enjoyed most, for no human, no matter how long they lived, could see every single piece of art in the world in person.

She always made a point to return to school every couple of decades, whether that be to refresh her memory on certain topics or learn something completely new that wasn’t invented the last time she went to school. But she always made a point to take art history every single time, since she enjoyed seeing the evolution of humanity so much.

“There’s a particular collection of paintings from a single artist that I want to talk to you guys about today,” said her professor, an eccentric man with an incredible passion for art. “It is among my favorite collections because of the comprehensive love story it tells.”

How interesting. Euphie had only seen a few collection of pictures like that in her long lifetime, where each painting was a chapter in a story book that continued on, even after the artist’s death. All of the ones she had seen were beautifully done and told a complex story, so she was especially excited to find a new collection.

“This is the very first painting in the collection, done by the artist Jean-Luc Lambert,” said her professor, projecting the Renaissance-era oil painting on the slideshow. “And this is where the story starts.”

Euphie started at the name of the painter and glanced at the painting. She felt her breath catch in her throat. Her heart began to pound erratically as memories she thought were long dormant rushed back to her in a crashing wave, making her face flush and drawing tears to her eyes at the same time.

For, it was her in the painting. It was just a simple portrait, with her in an extravagant dress befit of her status at the time and an impassive expression on her face. But it was beautifully done and looked just as vibrant as she remembered it looking when it hung above the fireplace of her adoptive parents’ estate. She still remembered what her thoughts were at the time; they were occupied by how boring getting portraits done was, how she couldn’t wait for this to be over because she had permission to go riding later that afternoon. How ironic it was, that only months later there was nothing more she wanted to do more than get her portrait painted. By him.

“This portrait was commissioned by the Lovelace family of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Euphemia, who–” Her professor stopped abruptly, eyes darting from the painting on the screen to Euphie’s face. “Who looks astonishingly like Euphie here.”

The classroom went up in whispers. Her deskmate elbowed her in the side. “Looks like you have a historical doppelganger in that girl right there.”

“Euphemia Lovelace,” she whispered, rolling the name she once used on her tongue, eyes still focused on her perfectly preserved portrait. “Yeah, it looks like it.”

“What a coincidence, Euphie. Even your names are similar!” The professor smiled at her, and she barely had the energy to smile weakly back. “As I said, this was the very first picture of Euphemia ever painted by Lambert. Notice how impersonal the title of this painting is, which is simply ‘Portrait Commission, Euphemia Lovelace’. Pay attention to the titles of the paintings very carefully because this is where we get most of the story.”

The professor clicked to another screen, and Euphie smiled inadvertently despite herself. She was still sitting in her mother’s best dining chair, still dressed in the finest clothing money could buy, but she was smiling. She had her energetic puppy in her lap and her favorite books stacked on the table next to her, and the artist had managed to capture everything, even down to the microscopic details of the smeared paint on her fingertips.

“This painting is titled ‘Birthday Gift for Euphemia,’” said her professor. “The title is still not very friendly and impersonal, but they really allow us now to see the developing relationship between the painter and his muse, an English noblewoman living in Italy.”

“That sounds like something from a movie,” said another student in the class. He smiled at Euphie warmly. “We should find someone that looks like the painter and the two of you could recreate all the portraits. We can make that a class project or something.”

Yes, that did sound like something taken straight out of a modern romcom. But there was no one quite like him; in all the years Euphie has been alive, she never found anyone like him.

She wasn’t sure she would be able to, since the situations that brought the two of them together during that time were odd, even for modern circumstances. Euphie was immortal, yes, but she was born in East Asia, where she lived out her life as a poor and reckless child, unaware that it was never going to end, and she was going to have to live with the regrets she had developed forever. That child had been careless and fearful, who put no thought into the future and lived for the sake of the present only.

She was born into a dangerous era, known now to historians as the Era of Warring States, and her developmental years only brought her flashes of soldiers and armies and fighting and blood. Blood and bodies littering the humble village as coalitions fought viciously for a chance at power. Families rioting when the figurehead emperor rode aloof through the country on a palanquin to offer reassurance to the masses.

In fact, had she not been immortal, she likely would have died that night in the cold December of 200 BC, when her family home was set on fire and everyone she knew and loved were killed. She still vividly remembered waking up in the morning buried in ash and completely unharmed. To this day, she didn’t know if it was a blessing or a curse that the gods had placed on her.

There wasn’t much a five year old could do after its entire family was killed in a raid, so she was taken in as a “prisoner of war.” She was trained as a servant in the household of a warlord and was treated like vermin; not a day went by where she wasn’t kicked or slapped, or spat on. She simply gained as much knowledge as she could manage, with the lord insisting on keeping his servants dumb and his female servants dumber, and bided her time until she could escape from the hellhole that was her home.

The lord of her home got drunk one day, after fighting with his second in command, and she took that as a sign to flee. She changed her name and ran as far away as she could, spending time in various different countries, absorbing as much knowledge as she could before leaving again. She became a vestil in Rome, a seamstress in Russia, and a painter in Egypt before she was brave enough to return to her hometown, which was in a country called China now. She lived there for many, many years, moving when she had overstayed her welcome, until war broke out again and pretty dancers, of which she had become, were being snatched by soldiers to act as pretty little playthings.

She fled again, going to Europe this time where it was rumored that there was an explosion of arts to be seen, and her luck was what saved her this time. Duke and Duchess Lovelace were having trouble conceiving a child, and a bedraggled, intelligent, and pretty girl with exotic features stumbling into their life was the perfect thing they needed.

The third painting was on the screen, this one much less rigid and more comfortable than the previous two paintings. She was sitting in a chair in her home library, in a simpler dress with her feet tucked improperly underneath the armrest. She wasn’t looking at the painter this time, but off in the distance, daydreaming.

“With this painting, titled ‘A Common Pastime,’ you can clearly tell that their relationship has changed from one of acquaintances to one of friends. Lambert has been allowed into the home of the Lovelaces and seems to be, as you youngins say, ‘hanging out–’” the class broke out in snickers at that–“with the Lovelace’s only daughter.”

Jean-Luc was different too. He was just like her, even if he was just a mortal. He was from a wealthy Chinese family that fled to France during an era of war and stayed there for many generations. If Euphie wasn’t mistaken, the cruel lord she served for many years was Jean-Luc’s great-great-great-great-times-something grandfather. It was easier to start a conversation with him because he understood what it was like to be decidedly not Italian in Renaissance Italy. She did always know him by his Chinese name anyway.

“She looks so much like you it’s amazing,” her deskmate whispered. “Maybe you’re related to her. Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“I wish I could find out,” said Euphie, eyes focused on the painting and the almost perfect rendition of her face. He put so much care into every painting that he did, but, for the sake of sounding a touch narcissistic, he always spent the most time on hers.

Class went on and more paintings were exhibited, the pictures of her getting more intimate as they went by. As the professor lectured and the class got more and more invested into her love life, Euphie was engulfed in memories that she thought would never come back with such strength. The picnic in France, where she had fallen asleep and Jean-Luc had perfectly captured her likeness in two hours; the gondola ride around Venice, where she hadn’t even noticed Jean-Luc was painting her until he turned the canvas in her direction and she was met with her dreamy expression, not the buildings of Venice; the night she snuck out from her home and met him at midnight, shedding the name Euphemia Lovelace for a few measly hours and becoming just “Euphie,” a girl in love.

In all her time, she has never quite fallen in love with anyone as deeply as she did with him. She smiled ruefully at the memory of his smile and resigned herself, once again, to the exceedingly lonely existence that lay before her.

“As you can see,” said the professor, clicking to another slide and another painting of her. “Lambert thoroughly documented every moment of his relationship with Euphemia, similar to how you kids document your relationship through selfies and Instagram.” He got a chuckle from the class at that. “This portrait is on the later end of the collection and is one of the last portraits he painted of Euphemia before their relationship ended.”

Outcry broke out from the class, with people (far too invested in previous identity) being stricken by the implication that this literally picture-perfect relationship was going to end. The knowledge of what was going to happen next was certainly enough to pull at Euphie’s heartstrings, and she could only reminisce about what it had been like to experience this the first time.

For Duke and Duchess Lovelace were very concerned with where they stood on the social ladder of European high society. It was never meant to be from the beginning.

“I said it was a romantic love story, but I guess I forgot to mention that it is a tragedy of Romeo and Juliet proportions,” said the professor, with a little too much glee in his voice. “Except for the fact that neither of them killed themselves.”

And that one of them is still alive, thought Euphie with a wry shake of her head.

“You can’t do that to us, sir!” The boy from earlier, who advocated strongly for the recreation of her portraits, had a voice that was loud in the fray, leading the other unhappy romantics in a dissenting chorus. “At least give us a warning!”

“You guys should have known from the beginning,” Euphie replied. “She’s an aristocrat, and he’s a painter. They never would have been allowed together.”

“If something is known for being a romantic love story, then I think it should have a happy ending,” another girl complained. “You totally led us on, Prof.”

“There are no happy endings in life.” Euphie knew that fact with intimate detail. “Trust me.”

Her professor raised a finger in the air, shaking it vigorously. “Right you are, Euphie. Real life doesn’t have happy endings, and this collection of paintings is renowned for its inside look into raw, human emotion.”

The painting was projected onto the screen. Euphie stared at it in fascination, gaze focused on the conflicted expression on her face. She had never seen this painting before, didn’t even know that Jean-Luc was still painting her after they were forced apart. She hadn’t even known how he was doing after everything was said and done. She was glad that this painting could tell the end of the story to her.

In the painting she was staring directly at the artist while everyone else around her celebrated her good fortune. She was impressed by the way Jean-Luc had brought her to life with a handful of colors from memory, because she remembered this moment, and he wasn’t painting her at the time. It would have been rude to paint during her wedding, after all.

“As you might have guessed, this painting is titled ‘Arranged Marriage–‘” Much to the displeasure of the classroom. “Because Euphemia Lovelace was a young woman from an old-money, aristocratic family, and she was bred and raised to be married to another old-money, aristocratic man. Jean-Luc Lambert was a painter from France who built his clientele by word of mouth. There was no chance of their relationship surviving. I’m personally surprised that they lasted so long at all.”

“She must have hidden her relationship well,” said Euphie softly, unable to prevent herself from speaking. “The previous painting, where Euphemia was perched on top of a bridge at midnight, was titled ‘Escape,’ which could be telling us that she snuck out to meet with Lambert.”

“How romantic,” said her deskmate. “They really were star-crossed lovers since the beginning, huh? Forget recreating these portraits, we should get the screenwriting class to turn this into a movie and have Euphie as the lead.”

Euphie laughed at that, letting some of the residual sadness go. How ironic it would be, if she was cast to play herself in her own love story from centuries long past. Of course, no one would ever know why she appeared to fit into the role so perfectly, down to the stray tear rolling unnoticed down her cheek.

The professor clicked the remote again and another painting came up on screen, another that Euphie had never seen before.

Her breath caught in her throat. Tears unwittingly fell down her face, and she could almost feel Jean-Luc’s sincerity bleeding from the canvas, even after all of these years. The painting was beautiful and captivating in every single way. He had captured the last moment they shared together, the night before her wedding to the abominable Lord Bartolo Scarsi, with an almost photographic detail, from the wrinkles on the silken bed spread to the remnants of tears at the corner of her eyes.

The candlelight from the nightstand cast gentle shadows on her face where it could be seen from behind the blankets, and her eyes were looking directly at the viewer–directly at him–and full of quiet introspection. Everything, from the strands of hair pooling on the white sheets to the red flush on her body, was rendered with an extraordinary hand.

She never knew he loved her this much.

“‘My Polaris’ is what this painting is titled, and it was the last painting that Lambert made of Euphemia on her own,” said her professor. She could see some students sighing in sympathy, and her heart twinged in self-pity once more. “He completed one more, but this piece is the most well known of this collection. It was the one that shows the true intimacy between the two of them, even if Euphemia was married to another noble.”

“Does Lambert have any other paintings,” asked another student in the class. “Or was his career limited to just these?”

“After he painted this painting he went on to paint two more, one of which closes this collection and this love story,” the professor replied. “The very last painting he made was a stunning work, yes, but nothing when compared to the paintings he did of Euphemia Lovelace. Unfortunately, he died about a decade after she got married.”

The last painting was put up on screen, and Euphie’s heart could barely stand to look at it. She knew this painting, knew it because it was the portrait that tortured her for the rest of her life as Euphemia Lovelace, before she had enough and faked her death. She left her young family behind and ran away to start a new life again.

“This painting is the very last painting he did of Euphemia. I want to draw your attention to the title, because it is the titles that tell the real story here.” Her professor circled the title of the painting with his laser pointer. “It’s titled ‘Portrait Commission, Lord Bartolo Scarsi and wife Euphemia.’”

Everyone in the class was invested enough to know the implication of that title.

“Poor guy,” said her deskmate, clicking her tongue. “He loved her so much, only to get her taken away from him at the end.”

Euphie was too busy looking at the portrait to answer. Everything, from her far-away expression to the haughty smirk on Lord Scarsi’s was painted immaculately but lacked the distinct style that Jean-Luc had been known for, back when he was just painting caricatures on the river bank for a handful of dollars. It was a … perfect portrait, reminiscent of the Renaissance style of the time. But it was missing Jean-Luc’s personality, missing that spark that she had seen plenty of times to know that it was a painting done by the man she loved.

Her former husband had known about her love for Jean-Luc since the beginning. It didn’t matter any to him; he just used her frigidness as an excuse to have an affair and blame her when she found out. No, he was much more interested in rubbing into her face and his face that she belonged to Bartolo Scarsi now, not Jean-Luc Lambert. He had commissioned their wedding portrait from him specifically to watch the two of them squirm.

Jean-Luc had left Italy soon after the commission, and Euphie had never seen him again. The one she loved more than anyone had slipped through her fingers, and she would never be able to meet him again in the entirety of her endless lifetime. Once again, it made her wonder if her affliction was a blessing or a curse.

She packed up her things listlessly once the professor dismissed class for the day, head swimming in the memories of Jean-Luc’s touch, Jean-Luc’s smile, Jean-Luc’s passion

“Hey, Euphie!” The boy who seemed especially interested jogged up to her. “Are you busy right now? I was wondering if we could–are you okay?”

She laughed as much as she could manage, wiping away a few straggling tears with the back of her hand. “I’m okay. I can really see what the prof means by the raw and completely human love story. It’s so … heart wrenching and sad.”

“I know,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “My name is Luke, by the way. I wanted to talk to you about the Euphemia Lovelace tale. My friends and I were thinking that it would be a great movie. I’ve got some buddies who are majoring in film, and it would be cool if we could enter a film festival with it. Would you want to be the lead actress?”

Euphie smiled widely. Perhaps it was just the paintings putting his face in her head, but she was reminded of Jean-Luc in Luke’s enthusiasm. His smile flashed through her head, a fond memory of the boy she loved long ago.

“That sounds really fun, Luke,” she said cheerfully. If there was anything she could do to relive some of the best years of her life over again, then sign her up. She did do some work as an actress in some noir films in the 1930s, and she was as familiar with the story as they were going to get. “I’m really interested in the story too, so I could do some research and write the script, if you need me to.”

He beamed at her, eyes twinkling. Euphie paused and began to study his face; really, it sounded completely ridiculous–it couldn’t be possible, could it?–but it looked as if Jean-Luc was standing right in front of her in the character of this Luke. He held himself the same way, with a bundle of paint brushes sticking out of his backpack, similar to how Jean-Luc had carried them years ago. This Luke had the same easy grin, the same twinkle in his eye.

“No way,” she whispered, watching a face that she never quite paid attention to until today contort into a familiar expression of confusion. Her heart began to pound faster. “Jingyi.”

Luke blinked hard, shaking his head furiously. “Whoa, I just got a serious sense of deja vu just now. What did you say?”

She smiled incredulously. “It was just a Chinese expression that I read from some old-timey book.”

“Oh, are you Chinese?”

“Yeah,” she laughed, putting on a teasing grin. “My Chinese name is Yi Zhi.”

Luke’s mouth fell, and he looked just as confused as before. “There’s that deja vu again.”

Euphie’s heat threatened to pound out of her chest. Now that she was stopping to consider it, even his voice sounded the same as how she remembered it.

“All of a sudden I feel as if I’ve known you for years,” he confessed suddenly. “Where are you from? Have we met before?”

“I don’t believe we have,” she said, plastering a soft smile on her face. She could hardly breathe from not allowing herself to hope, but it really did seem like the boy in front of her was Jean-Luc, her Jingyi from when she was young(er). “You seem really familiar to me as well.” She hesitated only slightly. “Do you, by chance, want to grab a coffee? To, you know, talk about this film more.”

“F-film?” He shook his head once again, seeming to remember that making a film out of their past love story was what he wanted to talk with her in the first place. “Y-yeah, I’d really like that. Uh–I actually have another class to get to right now, but if you wanted to meet at three?”

She beamed. “Of course. How do you feel about ice cream?”

“Salt and Straw?”

“It’s like you read my mind,” she said brightly, reaching for his hand and scrawling her number in a well-practiced cursive script. “Text me anytime, okay?”

“Okay,” he said with a dazed tone, clutching the hand with her number on it to his chest. “I’ll text you after my class then.”

He was just as bumbling and awkward as ever, Euphie thought fondly. She started walking back to her dorm room, waving at him over her shoulder. “See you later, Jean-Luc.”

“What did you say?”

“Ask me later,” she laughed. He sounded just as petulant as a child, like when she didn’t save him enough desert after dinner, even though she hid at least two portions worth under the table. It wasn’t her fault he ate as much as a mule. “I’ve got a pretty fun story. Maybe I’ll tell it to you someday.”

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