Chapter 5:

To Float, or not to Float

For the Love of Research!

My dreams were filled with ducks—rubber, wood, plastic, clay, and the occasional live duck. It was almost enough to make me consider becoming a vegetarian, but I enjoy bacon too much for that. Rake and Carol also played a role in my dreams. They were double-sided blades that tried to protect me by bonking me on the head.

It wasn’t a rare occurrence. I dreamed every night. By day, I was a model student—polite, always getting my homework done on time, and not afraid to sit in front of the teacher’s desk. But the hours between the last class and dinner were a different story. I wanted to be polite but couldn’t figure out what to say most of the time.

I completed most of my tasks, like researching and finding a way to get more money for supplies. But I could barely plan ahead thanks to not being able to keep up with Carol’s ideas. It was an impressive whirlwind that never failed to amaze me. Carol was brilliant and passionate about the project.

No one could deny that she was a force to be reckoned with. And Rake was the soul of our group. He often stayed with me to make sure I knew what I was doing before taking care of his homework. And Paul and Krystal stayed friendly towards us, even when they were busy with the Discovery Club.

It could have been a lot worse. I wish it had been better. But the day of the presentations arrived, and Carol was holding my hand like a vise. “This is it. Everything we’ve worked for will be decided upon today! Did you remember to memorize your lines?”

Rake came to my rescue. “We don’t have lines, Carol. You are the presentation queen. Everyone knows this. Max and I are here to hold things up and make you look good while you give the judges a heart attack. Do you remember your lines?”

Carol nodded, but her grip didn’t change. “I’ve read through everything at least ten times before bed! I’m so grateful for all the work you’ve put in, Max. This project wouldn’t have been the same without you!”

I smiled and ignored the pain. No wonder Rake told me to pack a pain-blocker spell. I think my fingers have turned purple! “We all put in a lot of work, Carol. Do your best, and if you get nervous. Just picture them naked.”

They stared at me in shock. “What do you mean? Why would anyone want to see our teachers naked? They’re old!”

Rake nodded, making me laugh as some members of the Discovery Club passed. Will I ever find out why they don’t like our club? I’ve only seen Zane from a distance, and that was because he came to deliver some supplies that were sent to the Discovery Club by mistake. My face was buried in paperwork, and he said he was too busy to torment us on that day.

It was a relief to avoid a confrontation, but tensions had never settled after that. And their presentation is right before ours! It wasn’t the best situation, but neither of my clubmates cared. Rake was the picture of calm. He stood on the other side of our table in his most excellent school robes and held up a placard with various facts about rubber duckies.

Carol and I had spent a week searching for photos, but most searches ended with an overdose of bright yellow ducks. At least Carol isn’t jumping around like she usually does. I don’t think my shoulders could handle that. I held up my poster, hoping the anti-sweat spell did its job as the judges reached us.

Our principal smiled, but I couldn’t tell if it was genuine. Principal Enten, one of the most feared wizards of his time, rarely smiled, even for a picture. But he was smiling at all of us while he and two of the other judges looked over our presentation. Carol fidgeted but waited until Principal Enten turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

“This is an… interesting project, Carol. I certainly didn’t expect you to take such an… ambitious route.”

Carol beamed, proudly gesturing to the nearest duck, which was made of thicker rubber than the modern ones and began. “Greetings, Judges! Allow me to take you through time. We’ll start at the past and work our way through the future!”

I looked at Rake and mouthed. “Is she being serious?”

Rake shrugged, and I tensed, waiting for a time-travel spell to activate, but it never came. Carol had placed a few spells to make the ducks fly and quack, but nothing outrageous happened. By the time our presentation was over, the judges seemed pleased. I watched as they took a few more notes before turning to the Discovery Club’s presentation.

Rake gave me a thumbs-up and grinned. “And that’s how you survive presentation day, Max. Either have Carol take care of the talking or find someone else who loves the sound of their own voice.”

Carol clicked her tongue and hugged me. “Don’t listen to him, Max. Being a presenter is a ton of fun! You should try it at our next project!”

“I… uh… Don’t think I’ll be able to pull that off.” I rubbed the back of my head and smiled. “I’m more of the quiet researcher type. But I got to hand it to you. You were amazing, Carol. When did you put the spells on? I thought we didn’t have time for magical effects.”

Carol smirked as Rake rolled his eyes. “We didn’t. Carol decided to pull a couple of all-nighters. Don’t ever get into that habit, Max. The world can’t handle a new Carol.”

“Oh, but it can handle another Rake, right?” I couldn’t help but laugh as they spiraled into another silly argument. My cheeks felt numb, and I’m sure people were staring at us. But for the first time since I joined the Research Club. I felt like I was one step closer to my dream. We never found a ground-breaking new use for rubber ducks.

We did learn about various ways they’re being used, and surprisingly, some of them were scientific. Our club didn’t get the highest marks, but we were allowed to remain active for the rest of the year. Carol and Rake eventually started dating, and I found a couple of ways to make our budget more manageable.

(It mostly involved selling a bunch of charmed rubber ducks because, let’s face it, Carol bought way too much, and there was no way we could do another project with rubber ducks again—not as the main focus, anyway.) I’m still a polite, quiet student during the day, and sometimes I want to scream at my club members at night.

But that is the way our friendship works. Carol is a constant ball of happiness and energy. Rake is the more mature and collected of us. And me… I still prefer handling raw data and watching them work their magic. Carol insisted that we each keep a rubber duck, though. So, we will never forget this project, no matter what.

I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t necessary. That I wasn’t ever going to be able to forget being forced to look up facts about rubber ducks for as long as I lived. But Rake and I gave in, and I soon found myself taking a dark blue with sparkles rubber duck to my room. I keep him on a shelf, next to some notes and a folder dedicated to our budget.

I still dream about ducks, but it’s no longer a nightmare situation. I see members of the Discovery Club every once in a while. We still go to the same school suppliers and occasionally get our deliveries mixed up. But I never learned why Zane hates our club beyond it being a rival. It didn’t make much sense, but I didn’t feel the need to look into it.

I had other projects to look into. Some were for school or the Research Club. But most were for me. I must have filled over a hundred notebooks simply following whatever caught my interest, and my room became more paper than anything else… It was perfect. It helped me save time from decorating.

My rubber duck was the only splash of color besides my clothes and ink, I was happy… until Carol discovered my room and insisted on helping me clean. (She dragged Rake in as well, but he didn’t seem to mind this time—not when it came to making sure I wouldn’t accidentally set myself on fire and be unable to escape.)

All of my carefully filled notebooks were reduced to being stored on my Scroll… it wasn’t the same! But Carol made it clear she and Rake would be back to make sure I remembered how to keep my room clean from now on.