May 29, 2003 01:00 PM

It’s going to be an awfully difficult parting for real-life “Friends” Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox when the two wrap up their NBC sitcom next year, PEOPLE reports in its latest cover story.

Since meeting at an audition for the must-see TV show in 1994, Aniston, 34, and Cox, 38 have developed a bond that far exceeds the famously friendly rapport of the cast.

“Jennifer appreciates the best of Courteney and Courteney appreciates the best of Jennifer,” a show insider tells the magazine. “You don’t see that a lot in show business — this mutual friendship and respect, especially on the same show.”

As for what will happen to that amity after the show wraps its 10th and final season, Cox’s husband, David Arquette, predicts plenty of dinner parties, lunch dates and girls’ nights out.

“They became real friends while playing them on TV. That won’t end because the show is going off the air,” says Arquette, 31. “They can’t just turn that off.”

The on button clicked in virtually the moment the two actresses met nine years ago. “They clicked immediately,” says a veteran TV exec who was present that day.

In the years since, PEOPLE says, Aniston and Cox seek each other out during five-minute breaks on the set and enjoy joint pedicures and manicures during longer lulls.

While fellow friend Lisa Kudrow, 39, often joins the two for lunch, says a “Friends” source, Aniston and Cox “have more in common. It’s just an easy friendship.”

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