Mom & the City

02/19/2004 AT 10:54 AM EST

Carrie Bradshaw may know good sex, but Sarah Jessica Parker knows good plot – and while she's not afraid to tell, it ain't gonna happen. Let 3.4 million Sex and the City fans fret over Carrie's fate: Will she really leave her job and friends in Manhattan to move to Paris with Aleksandr the Russian? Could she reunite with Big? Or will she just hop in a cab to check out the spring collection of Manolo Blahniks at Barneys? "You'll never get it from me," says Parker, laughing. The fact is, until the cameras started rolling on Feb. 4 to shoot the show's finale, not even she knew what would become of New York's most famous fictitious columnist. To keep the curious guessing, executive producer Michael Patrick King wrote – and Parker filmed – three finales. And while Parker had access to the "real" script for several weeks, she couldn't bring herself to read the end until the last minute.

"It was an image I just didn't want in my head," she says. Until, shortly after midnight on a street in Greenwich Village, with cameras rolling and crowds watching, she could delay no longer. "Michael asked me, 'Are you ready to see it?' And I said, 'Yes.' " Minutes later Parker took her last steps (on the small screen, that is; reports have surfaced that a movie is in the works, and Parker herself will not rule out a reunion at some point) as the woman in whose stilettos she has been walking for so long. A clue to the conclusion? Don't blink. "It's an enormous moment," says Parker, "and it's a tiny thing."

In the six years since Carrie first strode through Manhattan in a tutu and tank top, all smarts, sass and – thanks to a passing bus – street-water-spattered vulnerability, the show has won five Emmys and eight Golden Globes – including the best-comedy-actress statue Parker picked up on Jan. 25 (her fourth). Along the way, City has gone from quirky cable sitcom to cultural icon, helping to chart a brave new course for feminism, friendship, fashion and, of course, fooling around. In Saudi Arabia, as one Princess Hassan recently told Parker, some women use City to teach their guys about relationships. Jokes the star: "We're a public service announcement."

Fans, no doubt, will miss their weekly brunch with the girls: Parker, Cynthia Nixon (Miranda), Kristin Davis (Charlotte) and Kim Cattrall (Samantha). Still, no one can take the hit series' end as hard as the woman who, with equal parts conviction and anguish, pulled the plug on it. "You don't want to be the last one to leave a party," says Parker, 38, who has balanced her role as the show's star and one of its executive producers with her life as the wife of actor Matthew Broderick, 41, and the mother of their 16-month-old son, James Wilkie. "If we stay because it's comfortable and lucrative . . . it's a sad ending if you stay too long." In the end, she says, both she and King agreed "it was time to stop telling these particular stories at this moment in time."

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