Pride and Predicament: A Penguins and Pride Short Story

Part One – Pride

Iris threw items of clothing around her bedroom in a flurry of rainbow-hued frustration ” “Merrrrrrroww!” Jeff leapt from the bed in a startled puff of grey and white fur as a stray black cardigan landed near her.

“Are you alright in there?!” James called out. He leaned against the open doorway and peered into the room, his eyes widening at the chaotic scene. “Oh, I see.”

Iris knelt amidst the scattered garments. “What do you wear to march in a pride parade?! I thought I’d pick something out the night before, but now it is the night before and I have nothing, argh!”

James approached with a mischievous glint in his eye. “Hold on,” he said. “I might be able to help with that. I wasn’t sure it would arrive in time. Let’s hope they fit – I checked your jeans size when you were doing laundry a few weeks back.”

“You got me something?” Iris asked, surprised.

“A little something,” James confirmed with a grin.

“You didn’t have to do that!”

“It’s my duty as your best friend and housemate. Hang on a sec,” James said, disappearing out of the room.

Jeff, having reclaimed her spot on the bed, nestled comfortably in the growing pile of clothes. Iris sat down on the small patch of the bed not occupied by cat or clothes.

James reappeared, tossing a package towards Iris. She opened it with eager hands.

“Shorts?” she questioned, holding them up to the light.

“Rainbow shorts!” James exclaimed.

Iris unfolded them, their vibrant gingham pattern catching the light. “Wow, they’re amazing! Thank you!” the tension in her shoulders eased as she examined them.

“And if you’re short on t-shirt options,” James continued, “you’re welcome to borrow this.” He threw a black vest emblazoned with “Love is Love” in a rainbow of colours onto the bed.

“James, you’re a lifesaver!” Iris declared, getting up and throwing her arms around him.

“Hah, I wouldn’t go that far,” James chuckled, returning the hug.

The following day, Iris walked into the park wearing James’s “Love is Love” vest tucked into high-waisted Gingham rainbow shorts. She ran a hand through her short blonde curls as she scanned the park, looking for the group from the Zoological Society of London.

Lillie spotted her strolling down the main path and waved frantically, calling out,

“Over here, Iris!” her voice brimming with excitement. Spotting Lillie to her left, Iris waved back and quickened her pace towards a group steadily assembling a bunch of pride flags. A red banner, emblazoned with the bold declaration “Penguins are Gay, Get Over It,” lay unfurled on the grass.

“Hi everyone,” a touch of self-consciousness crept into her voice.

“Hey, I’m so glad you came!” Lillie replied, beaming.

“Um, do I look okay?” Iris asked.

“You look amazing. I love the rainbow shorts,”

“Oh, thanks. James got them for me. You look good too. Your T-shirt kind of matches the banner,”

“Well, what kind of penguin keeper would I be if penguins weren’t on my pride outfit somewhere?” Lillie joked, tying her shoulder-length purple hair back to reveal an undercut. “Now you just need some glitter. Don’t worry, it’s biodegradable!” She playfully touched glitter onto Iris’s cheeks.

“Um, am I suitably sparkly now?” Iris asked.

“Sparkly and pride-ready! Oh, you just need a wristband. Dave, we’ve got another one!” Lillie called out. Dave, a tall man with brown hair and a rainbow beard, walked over with an envelope of wristbands. Iris took one and introduced herself. “Thanks. I’m Iris from visitor operations.”

“Dave, researcher,” Dave replied.

“Do you think we have everyone, Dave? Are we waiting on anyone else?” Lillie enquired.

“I don’t think so. We put our contact number in the briefing, so if we are, they can always call us.”

“Right, shall we get going then?” Lillie suggested, grabbing Iris’s hand. Iris couldn’t help but wonder, “What if Lillie likes me as more than a friend … No, you’re straight, aren’t you? But that online quiz did say… no, come on Iris you’re in your thirties not a teenager, just enjoy the parade.”

James waited at the agreed meeting point, scanning the crowd, wearing a red baseball cap backwards over his dark brown hair, cargo shorts, and a black vest with the word “Human” spelt out in various pride flags. Oscar stood beside him, his bold red lipstick contrasting sharply with the purple eyeshadow and his dark skin. He was draped in a rainbow flag, sporting a sparkly purple sequin vest and denim shorts, accentuated by large silver hoop earrings.

Clara, her long ginger hair tied back, wearing rainbow dungarees, approached them. Her black and white border collie, Benji trotted at her side, tail wagging.

“Hey guys,” Clara said, pushing her round glasses up her freckled nose. “I think I see Keya and Jacob over there!

“Hey, Oscar, you’re looking fierce!” Keya shouted, running over to him.

Oscar scooped up Keya and twirled her around, the trans flag she had tied around her neck flowing like a cape, her long pink hair flying around contrasting against her light brown skin.

“Oh, please, you’re the one looking amazing,” he replied, setting her back down.

“Running?” Jacob asked, finally catching up to his fiancé. Stopping to catch his breath, he rubbed his stubble and pushed his glasses back into position, his chin-length dark curls falling around his face.

“Yep, had to!” Clara, James, and Oscar chuckled.

“Let’s make our way to the parade and see if we can spot Iris,” Clara said.

“Sounds good. Is everyone ready? And that includes you, Benji,” he added, petting him.

“Oh, my goodness, look at Benji with his little pride bandana,” Keya squealed.

Standing at the barrier, Clara, curious, asked  “Hey, what’s that flag?

“Oh, that grey, white, purple, and black one, that’s asexual,” Keya explains.


“It’s someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction,” Oscar adds.

“Yeah, but they may still experience other types of attraction, like physical or romantic attraction!”

James starts jumping up and down. “Yes, I think I can spot them!”

“I see them with the penguin banner,” Clara points out.

Wool!” James, Oscar, Clara, and Jacob bellowed, with Benji joining in, “Woof, woof.”

“Iris!!!” James yelled, “Iris, over here!” Oscar joined in by cupping his hands to his mouth, showing off purple sparkly nail polish.

“Who’s that she’s holding hands with?” Oscar inquired.

“Oh, that’s Lillie, her work friend,” James added, “she’s lovely.”

“It turns out she is also the sister-in-law of one of my students,” Clara added.

“You both know her?”

“Yeah, she came over a few weeks back,” James said.

“We met at the book launch of my student Emi Tanaka, it turns out she’s married to Lillie’s older brother, small world!”

“So, do you all want to stay until the end, or shall we grab food and drinks?” Clara asked.

“Pub sounds good to me!” Oscar grinned.

“Pub always sounds good to you,” Keya laughed.

“Woof,” Benji agreed, wagging his tail, and feeling their excitement.

Iris and Lillie stood looking out at the London Eye, their laughter blending with the happy chatter of their colleagues and others enjoying the evening. The boat pub almost felt like it was bobbing to the rhythm of the music coming from the tiny dancefloor, with fairy lights and mini pride flags strung across the deck. Lillie had her arm affectionately looped through Iris’s for most of the evening.

Iris was enjoying getting to know her colleagues better when she checked her watch. She realised she was supposed to have met up with James, Oscar, Clara, Keya, and Jacob half an hour ago.

A pang of guilt flickered across her face. “I’d better get going. I said I’d meet some friends,” she announced, her voice slightly apologetic.

Lillie’s smile faltered a little. “Oh,” she replied, a hint of disappointment in her tone.

“Sorry, but they’re probably wondering where I am. I promised to meet them half an hour ago!”

“No worries,” Lillie assured her, forcing a smile. “See you next week then, hug?”


Their faces brushed as they pulled apart. Lillie met Iris’s gaze, then gently reached for her face, her fingertips tracing a delicate path as she leaned in, her lips inching closer to Iris’s. Iris froze, caught completely off guard. She didn’t know how to respond. Perhaps the last few months had been leading up to this moment. From their first meeting, when Lillie tended to her bloody knees after she tripped outside the penguin enclosure on her first day at work. To opening up and sharing her past, her worries, all the lunch breaks and time spent together, it was all so easy with Lillie. “But I’m straight, aren’t I?” she wondered, her mind in turmoil. Despite this, Iris closed her eyes and found herself kissing back. The kiss was unlike anything she had experienced with her ex-fiancé or the handful of men she had dated. Lillie’s lips were soft, and she tasted like the Pimm’s and Lemonade she’d been drinking. This was different. Different, but good, really good. The answer to her question sparked in her mind, “I guess I’m not so…?” The thought died on her lips as Lillie pulled away and smiled. Iris stood there, cheeks flushed, adrift in a haze of what had just happened. It was as if her brain had stopped functioning, and all she could manage to say was, “Oh, erm… thank you! See you next week!” With that, she turned and quickly left.

Written and illustrated by Ali Laura
Edited by Ruth H