In a season filled with personal lows, NeNe Leakes’ return to The Real Housewives of Atlanta was Cynthia Bailey’s season eight bright spot -- a surprise for both Cynthia and viewers.
“Well, we had a little friend break,” Cynthia says with a laugh while joining ET for Housewives Happy Hour. Cynthia admits she and NeNe had barely spoken over the last two years, having publicly fallen out during season seven of the show.
WATCH: Housewives Happy Hour With Kenya Moore
“At the last reunion, you guys saw her have a little bit of breakdown,” Cynthia recalls. “And despite everything we were going through, when I saw her break down, of course I just naturally went to check on her to make sure she was OK, and after the reunion, she texted me and said, ‘Thank you so much for checking on me.’ It meant a lot to her.”
“I think that kinda opened up the door, kind of like an olive branch, you can say,” Cynthia continues. “From there, you know, the network called me and pretty much told me she was interested in coming back, and I was like, ‘Great!’”
“I’m a team player,” Cynthia adds. “I think it’s all about, you know, this cast -- the ensemble -- and I know it’s not just about me. So, I’m like, ‘Please, come back!’ But I was very, very surprised, and a little flattered and happy that I was the one that ended up bringing her back.”
Still, the eyewear entrepreneur says it wasn’t easy playing secret agent for Bravo.
“I had to keep the secret and everybody got mad at me, because we couldn’t tell anymore,” Cynthia tells ET. “It was so stressful. Like, you can’t imagine. Like, sneaking around and trying to hide NeNe Leakes in Jamaica? It was ridiculous.”
WATCH: Housewives Happy Hour With Phaedra Parks
“They had her at a whole other hotel the whole time,” Cynthia reveals. “It was tough, ‘cause she couldn’t tell her people, I couldn’t tell mine. Everybody was really in their feelings about it, but the surprise, the reveal, was actually priceless, because I think people were genuinely, genuinely shocked.”
Of course, NeNe’s surprise return to the show caused a major rift between Cynthia and her on-screen confidant, Kenya Moore, whom Cynthia refuses to call a “best friend.”
“NeNe was my best friend,” Cynthia says, “and that just ended so horribly that, you know, the ‘best friend’ thing was a trigger for me … it just kind of freaked me out, but I wish I had been more clear, ‘cause Kenya’s feelings were really hurt, and I do love Kenya, and we are super close. But we’re not besties.”
WATCH: Cynthia Bailey Questions Her Marriage: ‘Maybe I’m Just Not in Love With Him’
Now, Cynthia and NeNe are getting back into the groove of their friendship -- even grabbing dinner together a couple days before our interview.
“NeNe was the first woman on the show that I connected with,” Cynthia shares. “We just really just had a great chemistry together. And when our friendship ended, it was hurtful and it was hard, and I always still wished her well, but it was tough. I was there for her with her issues with Gregg, and you know, the separation, and divorce, and the marriage.”
Cynthia says NeNe is currently helping her through her own, much-talked about marital troubles with her husband, Peter Thomas.
“You know, she’s been at this a lot longer than I have,” Cynthia says. “I do definitely seek counsel from her. She has done pretty great … She definitely is somewhat of an expert when it comes to all things reality TV.”
WATCH: Preview the Dramatic Conclusion of The Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion!
As for whether NeNe will return to The Real Housewives of Atlanta full-time next season, Cynthia says that’s up in the air.
“You know, I don’t know,” Cynthia admits. “I think she’s open to it ... she has a lot of things coming her way as well, but I think there’s something about her coming in and out, at least, that’s nice.”
For more on NeNe’s possible Housewives comeback, check out the video below. Then, tune in for the final installment of The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s season eight reunion on Bravo this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, where NeNe makes yet another return to the show.