From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
What happened when Whitney Houston stopped by your pre-Grammy party rehearsal Feb. 9?

Brandy: She was like our godmom. I kept asking, "Does it sound good?" And she said, "It sounds great, but turn the band down!"

Monica: She was lively and told us to make her proud. I thank God for those last moments with her.

How did it feel working on your new duet "It All Belongs to Me"?

Brandy: I'm honored. It doesn't feel like work. [Tears up.]

Monica: Don't start. In the studio she'd have glassy eyes. I'm like, "Brandy!" She's very emotional.

You've both endured personal tragedies. (Monica's boyfriend took his own life in front of her in 2000; Brandy was in a 2006 car accident that killed another driver; she wasn't charged with a crime.) How did those experiences affect you?

Monica: Death made me appreciate life. After burying my first love, I realized life was too short.

Brandy: I wish I'd spoken to Monica after that terrible accident. It was a very hard time. My life had to be perfect; I didn't want to show my mistakes. I learned the hard way you have to take responsibility.

Brandy, you're dating music publisher Ryan Press, 32. Monica, you wed NBA player Shannon Brown, 26. Discuss.

Monica: I sing differently since I met my husband. And he is so attentive to my kids [Rodney, 6, and Romelo, 4, with rapper Rocko Hill].

Brandy: My daughter Sy'rai [9; dad is producer Robert Smith] loves Ryan, and he loves me for me. But I don't have a ring.

Monica: Girl, I got you. I talked to Ryan. You're good.

Brandy: You did? I told Ryan I'd marry him with a bubble-gum ring!

What's next for you two?

Brandy: We could go to Chuck E. Cheese [with Sy'rai].

Monica Yeah, girls' Friday. For seven years it's been trucks and wrestling with my boys. I've earned girl time!