Chapter 4:

It Squirts Water!

For the Love of Research!

I didn’t know what to do. Carol had a point that no one would see this coming, but on the other hand, what can we do with rubber ducks? I looked at the ducks on the table and sighed. “Well… the earliest rubber duck was actually intended to be a chew toy and couldn’t float… These all look like they’re for the bathtub… Maybe we should expand our samples to include other kinds of rubber ducks?”

Rake and Carol stared at me with different expressions. Rake looked confused and disbelieving while Carol beamed and hugged me. “Yes! That’s it. That’s the missing link! See, Rake? I told you Max was perfect. This project is officially underway!”

Rake shook his head. “No, you”-

“Silence, my grumpy friend! We need more research and ducks! Max, can I order more ducks? We should still have around twenty dollars left!”

Rake stared at her in shock. “What do you mean we only have around twenty dollars? The school year just started. How are we supposed to cover the rest of the year with twenty dollars?”

Carol shrugged as she started putting the ducks away. “We’ll figure something out. We always do. Maybe we can add flight charms to some of the extra ducks and sell them?”

I didn’t want to sit through another argument, but I didn’t want to fail at my first task as treasurer. I picked up my pen and said. “Do you… have the receipts, Carol?”

She stared at me in confusion. “Receipts? For what?”

“The ducks? And anything else you bought? I need them in case we decide to send them back.”

Carol tilted her head, reminding me of a rabbit. “Why would we need to send any back? We can sell them, or better yet. Keep them. We could start a rubber duck appreciation cult or something!”

I looked at Rake, and he slowly nodded. “Yes, Max. She’s being serious… How about you go to your room and start finding us a way to spin this around… I need to be alone with Carol for a few minutes.”

“But shouldn’t I help clean all this up?” I gestured to the table and the remaining ducks, but Rake shook his head.

“Don’t be silly, Max. The two of us can get this cleaned up in no time. I’ll have those receipts and anything else I think will help by tomorrow. You get out of here, and if I don’t see you before our next meeting. Have a good night, and let us know if you need help with your homework. The teachers are strict when it comes to the clubs that have projects that can affect their grades.”

“Alright, I’ll do that then. Have a good night, guys. Thanks for letting me into the club.”

“Have a good night, Max!” Carol waved so enthusiastically that she didn’t notice when Rake moved behind her until her hand smacked his chest. I hurried to the dorms before I could see the latest development between them. It’s nice that they get along, but how are we supposed to last on twenty dollars?

When I reached my room, I only needed to check my map twice and turn around once before sinking into my plush chair. Koneko Academy offered private rooms, and I was glad I snagged one. At that moment, I wasn’t sure how to explain what I had just gone through to someone else. Well, we do like challenges, and working with rubber ducks is definitely going to be challenging.

I booted up my Scroll and instinctively checked the academy’s site. Dozens of pictures featuring clubs and sports sprang to life under my fingertips, but I didn’t see anything about the Research Club. “I guess Rake and Carol haven’t had time to update it yet. I hope they don’t stay out too long.”

I didn’t linger on the Discovery Club’s section. I didn’t want to know what our rival club was doing… It’s only the first day of school. I’m sure they haven’t settled on anything yet. I flicked to the Web and began looking at rubber duck info. Most details wouldn’t have helped. Why would someone collect over 5,000 rubber ducks? I know they’re good for helping babies with their development, but that seems excessive, even for rare collectibles.

My head was aching by the time I went to dinner. The faculty welcomed everyone with bright smiles and promised that tomorrow would be different. The first day was about breaking the ice and figuring out the academy's layout. The second day is for remembering what you learned the year before and seeing how much studying you’re going to need to catch up.

I wasn’t worried about my classes. Except for broom riding, I’ve gotten As and Bs in all of my subjects. My magic hasn’t changed much over the summer, but I’m determined to keep improving. I just need to figure out how I can help keep the Research Club going. Rake said he’d help, but how can we make a project about rubber ducks work?

Dinner helped take my mind off the club… until I realized I’d been sitting in the same place, staring at the doors instead of eating. Rake had seemed eager to eat. Surely, yelling at Carol couldn’t take that long. I wonder if they ran into anyone when they returned the table? Brooding wouldn’t help. I knew that.

You just met them today, and they’re two grades above you. There’s no reason to worry about them. They can handle themselves. But I couldn’t stop picturing the worst possibilities. My future depended on the Research Club. Every member who graduated became one of the best scholars.

Once I graduated, I could do anything, but it wouldn’t be the same without the Research Club’s support. Calm down, Max. You’ll find out tomorrow. I dumped my tray, not even recognizing what I was supposed to eat, as my feet led me outside. The wind was brisk, waking me up as some stars began blinking through the clouds.

Even if this wasn’t a magical academy, I would still call this sight brilliant. I heard them long before I saw them, and my heart did somersaults. So they were still here. What are they going to do once dinner is over? I could see Rake carrying the table while Carol strolled by his side with the wooden box in hand.

“Why are you being so stubborn, Rake? I told you I would take care of everything. I’ll find the receipts and help Max get settled. There’s no need for you to escort me to my room like a criminal.”

“There are plenty of reasons I need to come with you, Carol.” Rake sighed, spotting me and giving a little wave. But I’ll tell you more later. It looks like our treasurer has something to say.”

Carol’s head whipped fast enough to cause herself whiplash as she stared at me. “Max, what are you doing out here? Are you done eating? Did you finish your homework?”

Rake stared at her with an eyebrow raised, never breaking stride as they reached me. “What homework? They don’t give freshmen homework on the first day.”

Carol refused to be reasoned with. “They might have. And that doesn’t explain why they’re here. The grounds are safe enough, but Max looks like a doll. What if something tries to eat them?”

Rake rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Do you feel like you’re going to get eaten out here, Max?”

“No, not really.” But if there’s a chance something might attack… I pulled out a can of all-purpose repellent and grinned back. “I never go anywhere without this and two layers of protection… You two are going to miss dinner. Let me help with those so you can be at your best tomorrow.”

Carol shook her head but handed the box to me as Rake went to the door. “Having protection is good, but don’t rely on them for everything, ok? You need to channel your inner duck and rely on your flock!”

I stared in confusion as Carol opened the door, and I found myself heading to our club headquarters for the second time that day. Does this mean we should hang out more? I don’t have any problems with that. But I could already tell from their expressions that wasn’t what Carol meant.

We reached the classroom and helped Rake put it in place with a soft grunt. He grinned and gave me a thumbs-up as Carol placed the box in a metal cabinet with a flourish. “Here we go. All of our precious samples are safe and sound! Do you think there’s any dessert left?”

Rake shrugged. “Probably. The cafeteria has never run out of food.” He turned to me and tried to look stern. “Did you eat? Or were you distracted by the mess Carol made for us?”

“I ate!” Technically. But Rake didn’t look convinced.