BOUNTIFUL, Utah — A Bountiful man is sharing a heartwarming story of finding love and hope, during the difficulty of the pandemic.
In the season of joy, Steven Brown is filled with the feeling love. Love found, unexpectedly in a unique place.
A love he couldn't ignore.
It started months ago, when Brown picked up a Nintendo Switch and began to play at the start of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Brown's work halted during that time. The single dad of two children described how he enjoyed the relaxing, calming game.
"That was kind of my escape from the real world," he explained. "It's a very slow-paced game, so it wasn't stressful for me."
Animal Crossing allows players to build their own little world on an island, and interact with other players on other islands.
They can talk with cute characters, and collect currency.
Brown racked up a massive amount of currency called "bells," so he went on an Animal Crossing Facebook group and offered to give some away for free.
A comment by a woman named Shayla Johnson caught his eye. He met up with Johnson virtually, on her island.
"I gave her the bells, and all of a sudden she asked me if I wanted to see her island," he recounted. "So we ran around and we were communicating through text."
A friendship immediately sparked between them. Brown said the two played for four hours.
They began to play together regularly and talk.
"We clicked and hit it off," Johnson said. "We started talking some more, and realized we had a lot more things in common than we realized."
The pair found themselves talking outside Animal Crossing every day for hours, and falling in love from a distance. Brown said it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives.
In August, Brown flew to Indiana to visit Johnson in person.
"It was pretty magical," Brown said, of their first time meeting.
"We realized at that point, this is serious," Johnson said. "We really love each other."
Secretly, Brown brought a ring with him. He described wanting to see how everything went with Shayla before deciding to propose. He doesn't like to plan things out, he said, and likes to live in the moment.
Things were going so well, he asked Shayla to marry him.
"It felt right," Johnson said. "I immediately said yes."
"I knew that the connection I felt with her in that moment was real," Brown said. "And I knew that I didn't want to spend it with anyone else."
Now, the couple is planning a wedding and Johnson's move to Utah. She's expected to come live with Brown in January.
They still play Animal Crossing, and Brown's daughter Audrey even joins in to play with them.
During a crazy time, a family formed together.
Love found, when they least expected it.
"My heart is telling me to go to Utah and be with him, and we'll start our life together" Johnson said. "And I'm trusting that. I'm trusting my heart."
"I want people to know that regardless of how scary the world is today and how depressing it can be, that there is hope," Brown said, adding. "There is joy, there is light."